So what’s the deal with those highway markers?

Driving on the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel at night, you might see a small, reflecting light on the side of the road.

Known as highway markers, they are used to help drivers see the road lines during the night and rainy weather.

“Safety is always VDOT’s No. 1 priority,” said Rob Cary, chief deputy commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation. “These markers have benefits for night time driving.”

Cary said statistically speaking, the department has seen between 24-33 percent reduction in crashes by adding the reflectors.

“We estimate statewide annually…eliminating 40 fatalities, 242 serous injuries, and 2,817 property damage only crashes,” he said.

The department uses certain criteria when it comes to installing highway reflectors, like on rural limited access highways such as a bypass around town with no entrance to the road.

All two-lane roads with an average daily traffic of 15,000 cars or higher or a highway with 45 mph speed limit and an average of 25,000 vehicles or higher qualify for highway reflectors qualify for the highway markers, Cary said.

And in case you were wondering, the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel fits the criteria.

“The average daily traffic count on the HRBT is 100,000 vehicles a day during peak travel,” Shannon Nicole Marshall, spokeswoman for VDOT, wrote in an email.

The HRBT has a number of these 9-inch long plastic reflectors — dual-sided, with one red side and one white side, similar to a reflector on a bicycle.

Each reflector is spread out about 80 feet apart from one another and the cost to install one is roughly $30.

So why is one side red?

Cary said it is to send a “bold message” to people that they are going the wrong way.

This is just another tool in VDOT’s toolbox and for roads which don’t fit the criteria for a highway marker, other safety measures can be installed or put in place.

“We do use them pretty widely –  they don’t make sense everywhere that’s why we have a criteria on them,” Cary said.

Such examples include using rumble strips on edge line of a lane to prevent single vehicles crashes or a rumble stick on the two, center road lines to prevent head-on collisions.

Residents with concerns about road conditions can visit VDOT’s residency offices, which serve as a local representative to the main department. But sometimes, the responsibility to add safety measures in certain areas, like regular neighborhood streets, lies with the specific locality.

“They are the ones that typically oversee things that are placed on those roadways,” Cary said. “We provide all of the safety criteria that they could use.”

VDOT is planning on moving to a new system with a lighter, grooved plastic marker so vehicles can see it during the nighttime hours and snow plows can pass over it without damaging the marker.

“We are currently developing a statewide migration strategy to move completely to the recessed plastic marker system statewide,” Marshall wrote.

VDOT is currently creating a plan to implement the newer, upgraded model of the highway marker (Southside Daily/ Courtesy of VDOT)
VDOT is currently creating a plan to implement the newer, upgraded model of the highway marker (Southside Daily/ Courtesy of VDOT)

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John Mangalonzo ( is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.