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'Heat tape' will help clear snow from traffic signals during winter storms

Posted at 6:44 AM, Mar 07, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Driving in a winter storm can be scary enough, but when traffic signals are covered in snow, it's another risk for drivers, and it can take a while for crews to clean things up.

That is, until now.

The Utah Department of Transportation reported they are installing new "heat tape" devices on traffic signals across Utah.

Heat tape sits on the underside of the hood of traffic lights, UDOT explained, and can be turned on during heavy winter weather.

Once the device is turned on, the tape heats the cap of the stoplight and melts away the snow, giving drivers a clear view of signals on the road.

Lights covered in snow are a relatively new issue, UDOT explained, as incandescent bulbs that gave off heat were previously used in all the traffic signals.

In the mid-2000s, many bulbs were replaced with LED lights because of their energy efficiency and better visibility.

Before UDOT began testing heat tape, the preferred method for clearing snow off a traffic signal was to send a technician to the site with "what is essentially a toilet bowl brush on a pole to clear the snow manually," officials explained.

“If the packed snow was too iced up, sometimes the technician would need to go up 20 feet in the air with an ice scraper and scrape the ice away from the signal head. Anytime we put someone up in the air or on the ground in traffic, we introduce risk," said Mark Taylor, traffic signal operations engineer at UDOT. "Manual clearing always takes time. Heat tape, on the other hand, is on and working constantly at the flip of a switch.”

Heat tape has already been installed on more than 450 signals, in Cache, Davis, Utah, Salt Lake, and Iron counties. In addition, 67 more intersections are ready to go and more installations are expected to occur at intersections "prone to snow buildup" throughout 2023.