A Roundabout Way of Striping

Michigan's roundabouts require directional arrows specific to the traffic control device.
Michigan's roundabouts require directional arrows specific to the traffic control device.

It happens eventually to every contractor: You bid a job, are awarded the work and pull up on the jobsite only to find the specs of the bid and the realities of the job don’t match up.

That was the case when Advanced Pavement Marking, Grand Haven, MI, tackled a pavement marking job striping a two-lane roundabout in Coopersville, MI, last year – one of only 12 in the state. Jeff Swendrowski, APM project manager, says that most of Michigan’s roundabouts are single lane, requiring less complex markings from the two-lane roundabouts. The Coopersville roundabout had four double-lane roads entering and exiting.

“We went for the bid and the county gave us scaled drawings of what the arrows were supposed to be and we based on our bid on those drawings,” Swendrowski says. “But when we got out, there the arrows weren’t even close to the specs; in fact each arrow was different from every other arrow.”

He says it looked like the turn arrows had been placed freehand with thermoplastic.

“As we went from one arrow to another, each arrow had its own set of problems so everything just looked worse and worse as far as trying to make the markings look uniform,” Swendrowski says.

“First we tried to fix the existing arrows by placing our stencils over the arrows and painting them. We tried to match up our stencils with the arrows as much as possible but it was just not possible. Because the arrows were all different, none of them came close to matching up with the stencils and we couldn’t get them to match with each other.”

So APM went back to Ottawa County to see how they wanted to handle the problem.

“There was no way we could make it what we would consider to be acceptable,” says Don Sokolow, APM owner. “From both perspectives we couldn’t make it acceptable. We wouldn’t be happy doing that kind of work and they wouldn’t be happy with the way it finally looked.”


80% Traffic markings

Started by Sokolow in 2008, Advanced Pavement Marking is a small company with only two full-time people (Sokolow and Swendrowski) and four seasonal workers. Sokolow says he also draws on a pool of trained and experienced stripers and pavement professionals who are available in an on-call basis as needed. “Several of those companies & people have been working with us for two years or longer,” Sokolow says.

Sokolow has a background in international landscape architecture and construction coordination. While working in India away from his family the economy was beginning to collapse and his father passed away. Don needed to look for another business opportunity that would keep him closer to his family and be stable during economic down turns.

“I saw an opportunity here in a niche market that still requires the background I have and the approach I take,” he says. “Exactness is essential and the job has to be done right.”

A friend in the striping business on the other side of the state helped Sokolow get set up, and last October the company was approaching its 400th job of the year. APM covers the state of Michigan and parts of Indiana and Ohio, generating 80% of its work from road/traffic marking and 20% from a mix of airports, parking lots, sports courts and warehouses.

“The first year we did between 60 and 70 jobs and by the second year we had added our first municipality-type job and that brought us to 250 or so jobs,” Sokolow says. “In 2011 we hit 300 jobs.”

“It’s been interesting growth because we haven’t capitalized on trying to advertise,” he says. “We’re fortunate that the level of work we do is good enough that our customers are interested and willing to talk about us, so the growth is almost entirely word of mouth. It’s proof that if you do the job the right way it pays off.”  

Sokolow says the company’s website – even though it was bare bones for a while -- has generated quite a bit of work and he says they are now building it to a more professional level.

“Once we got some municipal work our name started getting around and that lead to county work – like this roundabout job – and now we have counties recommending us.”


Back to the County

The Coopersville roundabout handles between 10,000-15,000 vehicles a day with one-third of those being commercial trucks. It has four entrances off the highway and four exits out of the roundabout and two traffic lanes throughout. Each lane has two arrows directing traffic in at the entrance for a total of 16 arrows (called “dragon arrows” because they are roundabout specific). Within the roundabout are eight regular traffic arrows – one in each lane at each intersection point. There are also four crosswalks and YIELD markings, in each exit lane.

The Coopersville roundabout is in a unique location, which compounded some of the difficulties APM had when going back to get approval for changing the work. Swendrowski says three sides of the roundabout are maintained by the county and the fourth side is maintained by the city of Coopersville.

Swendrowski says roundabout arrows are based on an oval – they’re elongated with the turn built into them – but the arrows on the pavement weren’t like that. “We don’t know if they freehanded or made regular turn arrows try to fit to make it work or what, but whatever they did didn’t match the specs for the job.

“The county was a bit surprised at first at the problem we encountered. The roundabout should have been painted last year, however the previous company never reported any issues,” Swendrowski says. “The city felt the arrows were good enough as they were so they left them in place; the county thought otherwise. That is why we bid and replaced only 12 of the 16 arrows.”

Advanced Pavement Marking’s first recommendation to the county traffic engineer was to remove the markings entirely to make the new marking correct to match the specs APM originally bid. “That was out of their budget. They first wanted us to try and make the specified stencils work. We tried, but we couldn’t do it without the work looking unprofessional and possibly causing confusion.”


Removing the Arrows

So APM went beyond what was in the contract and removed the markings – 12 arrows -- as best they could.

“It added time to our job and we ended up taking a little hit on this job as a company,” Sokolow says. “We’re a fairly socially responsible company and when we see something we can fix we try to fix it, to get it right. This contract was for two years so we ate the cost of the time this year, making it right for the county and making it easier for us next year when we go out there to restripe it.”

“There was no easy way to fix it, and the county didn’t have the budget to make it right,” Swendrowski says. “It meant customizing 12 individual arrow stencils, as the dimensions and shape varied greatly from one arrow to the next, to make it look acceptable. Overall it seemed more appropriate to bring the markings up to the original county specifications.”

Advanced Pavement Marking started with a shotblaster but the asphalt was too soft for that. They quickly switched to a scarifier but the thermoplastic gummed up the bits too fast so that didn’t work.

“The area we were working in has frequent and extreme freeze-thaw cycles, as well as lake effect snow; therefore, anytime we remove markings from the pavement, there is a concern for pavement damage.” Swendrowski says. “Anytime we scarify down onto the pavement, we end up creating a slight holding area for water which can compound the freeze-thaw damage.”

To minimize damage to the pavement, APM crews eventually used a heat torch and heat shovel to remove as much thermoplastic as they could, then followed that with a rotary grinder equipped with sanding pads.

“We heated the markings with the torch and scraped them up with the heated shovel, which because it’s heated doesn’t allow the markings material to stick to it as you scrape it up,” Swendrowski says. “We were able to scrape up all the white part of the material leaving behind only the black adhesive. Some of the black adhesive is still visible, but will fade away with time.”

He says it took a two-person crew six hours to remove the markings and while removal was taking place another two-person crew followed behind to clean the pavement.

“They were blowing the scraped and sanded markings clean with a backpack blower and then picking the debris up with a shop vacuum,” Swendrowski says. “A lot came off in larger pieces and we could just pick them up and throw them in the trash.”


Keeping Traffic Flowing

Swendrowski says Advanced Pavement Marking did some research and determined that there is less roundabout traffic in the middle of the week, so they decided to do the job on a Wednesday. He says they decided to keep the roundabout running throughout the job, which meant slowing traffic but not rerouting it to another exit.

“It was just off the highway so we really couldn’t shut it down completely,” Swendrowski says. “Our goal was to do all the work in one day while keeping the roundabout open and traffic delays to a minimum.”

Advanced Pavement Marking started the work with a five-person crew (two two-person teams and one floater) on the job early in the morning to organize traffic flow and lane shut downs. Marking removal began at 8:30 a.m. “By 10:00 a.m. we were able to start applying paint,” Swendrowski says. “We wrapped up and pulled the last cone at 9:00 p.m., 11 ½ hours after we started.”

He says the company planned the work in advance so that once the APM crews got on the job and began disrupting traffic drivers would see the crews working.

“We knew we would be there all day and that our project would be a major inconvience to the daily traffic. Once we set our cones we immediately started working,” he says. “People tend to be more accepting of the traffic delays when they see a crew working inside the construction zone, which cause traffic from all directions to slow down and flow smoother.”

Advanced Pavement Marking shut down one side at a time, basically turning a two-lane roundabout into a one-lane roundabout. “That enable us to get the work done while allowing traffic through,” he says. “We closed one lane and had steady traffic flow all day but were able to do it with no backups.

“We shut everything down to one lane; we went through and completed the right lane all the way around and then flipped everything as soon as we were done, eliminating a traffic shift; we then switched and opened that lane and shut the other lane down.”

He says that because of the heavy traffic and significant amount of truck traffic the lanes were “coned off” for a much longer stretch than normal, and APM used arrow boards well in advance to make drivers aware.

“Plus on a roundabout everyone has to slow down anyway so that helped us too,” Swendrowski says. “We had over 200 cones out there so we were kind of hard to miss.”

He says that before they opened a freshly marked lane to traffic they made sure the paint was cured all the way through. “When the trucks come through they can really tear that paint up if it’s not 100% ready for traffic. We ensured each lane was completely dried and cured before opening the lane to traffic.”

He said that when it was time to switch they placed APM workers with the cones and at the front of the road. “As soon as we were ready to shift to work on the other lanes they just walked the cones over and traffic was open on the part we’d just completed. It worked perfect.”

He says that in addition to the removal and restriping of arrows APM crews created and marked a new layout in full traffic flow, “something we normally shut down for.”

Advanced Pavement Marking striped a yellow centerline around the entire island, a yellow line at the edge of island, and white markings to divide the two lanes and around entire exterior of road edge line as well. Kelly Creswell, JCL and Titan equipment was used on the job along with MDOT-approved oil-based paint. Swendrowski says the used walk-behind equipment on the centerline and interior edge lines because the truck-mounted unit can’t maintain the proper radius to stripe it cleanly. The truck-mounted unit with a hand paint/bead gun was used for stencils throughout the job.

“The county was pretty happy and we liked the finished result, too. The new arrows make the roundabout easier to understand and to follow,” Swendrowski says. “It made the extra work worthwhile and will make the job a lot easier the next time.”


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“It’s right off the highway exit and gets a lot of traffic so if we’d completely shut it down it would have been chaotic,” says Jeff Swendrowski, APM project manager. “All the work was done within the flow of traffic.”

Jeff Swendrowski, APM project manager, says restriping the roundabout was part of an annual restriping contract APM for Ottawa County. APM doesn’t restripe centerlines for the county but takes care of all symbols work and handwork including crosswalks. In the case of the roundabout APM also striped a yellow line around the roundabout, centerlines delineating lanes, and edge lines.




Air or Airless?

Advanced Pavement Marking relies on a mix of Kelly-Creswell, JCL and Titan walk-behind stripers, truck-mounted-units and stencil trucks. Owner Don Sokolow is a proponent of air (conventional) stripers for much of the company’s work.

“On any type large-scale projects we prefer conventional units,” Sokolow says. “Any time were going to go through a large number of gallons of paint we use conventional machines because they don’t get clogged as much as airless machines do. I’m amazed people go through the trouble of replacing tips as often as they do on airless machines; we’ve never had to stop a truck to replace a tip on an air machine so there’s less downtime which means more productive time.”

He says he also prefers conventional units on any work that requires an inspection. “Conventional units give us the required edge-to-edge coverage & proper paint mils faster than airless,” Sokolow says.