Examination of the Current Practice of Lighting in Virginia: Nighttime Work Zones and Improving Safety Through the Development of Nighttime Lighting Specifications

Report No: 18-R3

Published in 2017

About the report:

This project evaluated current nighttime work zone lighting practices for limited-access highways and primary routes in Virginia through (1) an on-site evaluation of lighting levels in work zones; (2) an illuminance characterization of various commercially available light towers; and (3) a human factors evaluation of those light towers and developed effective nighttime work zone lighting requirements for Virginia.

The majority of the static nighttime work zones used metal halide portable light towers. Mobile operations such as milling and paving used equipment-mounted balloon lights and LEDs. Horizontal illuminance levels in the work zones were affected by the number of light towers, locations of the light towers, and number of traffic lanes in the work zone. The measured horizontal illuminance levels in the work zones were much higher than recommended levels. Milling and paving operations that used equipment-mounted lights had lower illuminance levels than operations that used portable light towers. Vertical illuminance levels in the traffic lane were significantly affected by the aiming of the luminaires on the portable light towers. Luminaires aimed into the traffic travel lane produced higher vertical illuminance levels, which can result in disability and discomfort glare and consequently reduce visibility.

The visual performance of drivers in a work zone can be influenced by the type and orientation of the light tower. An orientation aimed toward the driver resulted in lowering drivers’ visual performance, both objectively and subjectively. This decrease in visual performance could be attributed to higher vertical illuminance. To increase the drivers’ visual performance and reduce glare in the work zone, efforts should be taken to aim the light towers in an active nighttime work zone away from the direction of traffic or perpendicular to it. In these orientations, all the three light towers tested had similar visual performance measures. The increase in the mean vertical illuminance level in the critical range is associated with higher perceived ratings of glare.

Results showed that the mean vertical illuminance in the distance range of 260 to 65 ft to the light tower could be used as an objective measure of glare. A mean vertical illuminance of less than 17 lux resulted in lower perceived glare ratings. Results also indicated that light towers should be oriented so that the angle between the beam axis and driver line-of-sight axis is always greater than or equal to 90 degrees. Finally, a draft specification outline including a plan for on-site lighting evaluation of a work zone is presented.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.


  • Rajaram Bhagavathula, Ronald Gibbons, Alejandra Medina, Travis Terry

Last updated: November 11, 2023

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