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Highways for LIFE

Arrow Marketing Plan: Making Work Zones Work Better

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Corporate Philosophies

As noted in the introduction, the HfL program and the MWZWB program developed by the Office of Operations have closely aligned goals. It is important to recognize the MWZWB program first and foremost as a philosophy to mitigate the impact of work zones upon all facets of the general public (travelers, nearby residents, and adjacent businesses), rather than simply a collection of techniques, strategies, or technologies. The focus of the MWZWB program is upon reducing impacts by reducing:

  • The number of work zones that are required
  • The exposure of travelers and workers to work zones that have to occur
  • Safety and mobility impacts to those remaining travelers and workers who encounter and endure work zone conditions when present

Both the highway community as a whole and the FHWA in particular have been diligent in seeking out and finding innovative solutions to highway challenges. Each Marketing Plan Making Work Zones Work Better 4 year, teams of engineers, planners, and other professionals scan the globe, looking for potential innovations for highway facilities. The Office of Operations has accumulated a large database of strategies, techniques, and technologies that address one or more of these three focus areas. In 2000, FHWA published the Work Zone Operations Best Practices Guidebook, which lists specific examples of things that can be done to mitigate work zone impacts on the public. Obviously, the list of these innovations is significant, and it continues to grow. Whereas the initial list of practices numbered slightly over 100 ideas, the FHWA website now outlines well over 150 such innovations (see A summary of the categories of strategies, techniques, and technologies that fall under the MWZWB philosophy in this guidebook are listed below.

  • Agency work zone quality improvement strategies
    • Awards and contests
    • Committees, workshops, tours, committees
    • Organizational approaches
    • Toolkits, checklists, strategy lists, surveys
  • Analysis efforts
    • Cost analyses
    • Lane closure analyses (queue length, delay)
    • Traffic analyses
    • Value engineering
  • Community involvement
    • Community impact mitigation strategies
    • Public relations initiatives
    • Stakeholder forums and discussions
    • Task forces
  • Constructability reviews to reduce construction time, minimize traffic disruptions
  • Construction methods to speed progress, minimize impacts to drivers/public
  • Education and outreach efforts
    • Driver education
    • Public outreach/information campaigns
    • Staff/contractor education and training
  • Enforcement
  • Equipment
  • Evaluation
  • Incident management
  • Innovative contracting
    • Adjusting contract start times or duration
    • Different contract types
    • Lane rental
    • Performance warranties
  • Coordinating multiple projects
    • Corridor management
    • Multiple project coordination
  • Public relations
  • Research efforts underway
  • Traffic management technologies
  • Traffic management/control planning and application
    • Applications
      • Transit improvements
      • Comprehensive transportation management plan implementation
    • Checklist, strategies, misc. guidance
    • Roles and responsibility definitions
  • Traveler information
    • Periodic public information
    • Real–time traveler info systems
  • Work zone lane management
    • Design for lane closures
    • Lane closure restrictions
    • Managing lane closures
    • Total roadway closures (to reduce total contract time)
  • Work zone speed management
  • Worker safety
    • Intrusion alarms
    • Positive protection devices
    • Use of robotics

The Office of Operations has also been supporting the MWZWB philosophy with the organization and conduct of workshops nationwide. Since 2002, 27 such workshops have been held in 24 different states. Each workshop consists of a series of short presentations on topics identified by the state and local agencies as interesting and important to them. The agencies designing the workshop choose from one or more presentations listed under the following main topic areas:

  • Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and Mitigation Techniques
  • Work Zone Information Systems
  • Innovative Technology
  • Integrating Operations
  • Reduce Demand
  • Innovative Contracting

In addition, the FHWA is supporting work zone related research and activities in the areas of traffic management, worker safety, user safety, signage, mobility/delay, performance analysis, user costs, ITS, public relations/outreach, exposure to work zones, reduction/duration, time conscious methods, corridor plans, incident response efforts, and utility work. Consequently, the list of strategies, techniques, and technologies that fall under the MWZWB philosophy umbrella continues to grow, along with attendant support and guidance materials.

The FHWA has the overall lead in improving the safety and mobility of the nation's roadway infrastructure. The agency has identified three "vital few" focus areas that have been targeted for greater attention and resources: safety, environmental stewardship, and congestion mitigation. Two of these three goals tie directly to MWZWB. One of the objectives of the vital few congestion goals is to reduce work Marketing Plan Making Work Zones Work Better 6 zone delay by ensuring that all states are engaged in aggressively anticipating and mitigating congestion induced by highway work zones, and the safety goal is to reduce the national highway fatality rate from 1.5 to 1.0 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. The efforts of the MWZWB program will make a difference in achieving these goals.

Situation Analysis

Two efforts have been initiated recently, in an effort to address the increase in the number of work zones and the level of work zone congestion.

The first is the Work Zone Safety and Mobility Rule published by FHWA on September 9, 2004. This rule updates and renames the former regulation on "Traffic Safety in Highway and Street Work Zones" in 23 CFR 630 Subpart J. All state and local governments that receive Federal–aid highway funding are required to comply with the provisions of the rule no later than October 12, 2007. A copy of the rule is included as Appendix A.

For states to be in substantial compliance with the new rule, they are required to:

  • Develop an over–arching work zone policy
  • Define and identify significant projects
  • Develop traffic management plans for significant projects, which will include temporary traffic control plans, traffic operations, and public information components
  • Collect and analyze congestion and safety data, and
  • Perform work zone process reviews

While guidance has been developed and support is being provided to help state highway agencies comply with the rule, many agencies will likely need assistance in implementing some provisions of the rule.

A second development is the Highways for LIFE program, created by the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA–LU). HfL was created to address the problem of a national highway system that is well beyond its design life. Bringing the system up to an appropriate level of quality using current construction methods would require an enormous capital investment. And even if such a sum were available, the congestion such a massive construction program would cause, again in terms of current methods, could cripple mobility. The HfL approach says that, just as innovations in such industries as consumer electronics and automobiles have resulted in lower cost, better quality, and higher value, one should be able to apply the concept of innovation implementation in the highway construction field—including managing highway construction projects to minimize congestion. This program is designed to rapidly implement innovative ideas that build projects faster, better, and safer into state DOT day–to–day practice. Key elements of the HfL program include the following:

  • Improving current approaches to technology transfer
  • Developing partnerships with industry
  • Funding of pilot projects with each state DOT
  • Communicating the innovations and approaches to the highway community, as well as to highway users

An important aspect of the HfL approach is the need to focus on the highway user. As identified in the previous section, improved community involvement and public relations efforts are important innovations within the MWZWB initiative as well. Establishing and maintaining good communications with all affected audiences before and during construction and maintenance activities has long been acknowledged as highly effective in helping to mitigate the impacts of these activities on the public.

It is important to understand that coming up with innovations has never been the problem; the challenge has been the process of integrating innovations into day–today practice in a reasonable amount of time. Regrettably, the process often takes decades. This is unacceptable and accomplishes next to nothing toward the improvement of the users' driving experience.

Feedback received from state DOTs during a national review on "Meeting the Customer's Needs for Mobility and Safety During Construction and Maintenance Operations" indicated the following when it comes to technology transfer:

  • They expect the FHWA to keep them advised of successes and failures from around the country
  • The amount of information and number of periodicals and reports is overwhelming
  • They want and need the FHWA to assist them in identifying new ideas, best practices, and technologies that will help them solve their problems and improve their operations
  • Once these new ideas, best practices, and technologies have been identified, they look to the FHWA to assist in implementation
  • They stressed the need to recognize that "one size does not fit all"
  • They felt that for technology transfer to be successful, the FHWA's efforts must be adapted to an individual agency's needs
  • They were very supportive of the FHWA's past efforts of sponsoring regional workshops, peer reviews, and scanning trips
  • Many states are very strict on out–of–state travel, and the FHWA's assistance is seen as a necessity for technology sharing to be successful

Based on this feedback, and with input from selected FHWA work zone practitioners1, the following elements are being advanced as key components for making work zones work better:

  • Work Zone Peer–to–Peer Programs
  • Focused Technical Assistance Workshops
  • Project Assessment Assistance

These components, which will be described in more detail in the following section, will allow the FHWA to assist state DOTs in becoming more proactive and effective in adopting more effective ways and technologies in making work zones work better.

Presently, the ability of FHWA (and the state and local agencies themselves) to estimate how well work zones are "working" is limited to data being obtained through a Work Zone Self–Assessment process that the Office of Operations initiated in 2003. The self–assessment has occurred annually since then, with the results through the 2006 assessment available from the FHWA Office of Operations website (–assess.htm). The goals of the self assessment process are:

  • Raise an agency's level of awareness of practices and strategies used in mitigating work zone congestion and crashes
  • Facilitate communication and sharing of best practices among transportation professionals
  • Identify gaps in existing efforts to mitigate work zone–related congestion and crashes
  • Provide an opportunity to benchmark progress
  • Provide information to FHWA helpful in measuring the effectiveness of the National Work Zone Program and also for shaping that program

The self–assessment focuses attention on six main emphasis areas where high leverage opportunities exist to minimize work zone impacts upon the public:

  • Leadership and Policy
  • Project Planning and Programming
  • Project Design
  • Project Construction and Operation
  • Communications and Education
  • Program Evaluation

1 February 22, 2006, MWZWB/HfL meeting at Turner–Fairbank Highway Research Center, with following participants: Ken Opiela, Deborah Curtis, Chris Newman, Guan Xu, Daniel Grate, Joe Geigle, Mike Davies, Martha Kapitanov, Gus Shanine, Tracy Scriba, Kathleen Bergeron, Chung Eng.

Under each emphasis area, the Office of Operations staff has identified a series of questions to assess specific topics or activities that agencies could be doing to minimize work zone impacts. A total of 46 such questions were ultimately identified, examples of which include the following:

  • (Under the area of Project Design) – During project design, does the agency perform constructability reviews that include project strategies that are intended to reduce congestion and traveler delays during construction and maintenance activities for type I & II projects?
  • (Under the area of Project Construction and Operation) – In bidding type I & II projects (those with higher potential impact on the public), does the agency include road user costs in establishing incentives or disincentives to minimize road user delay due to work zones (e.g., I/D, A+B, Lane Rental, etc.)?

A full list of the questions under each emphasis area is presented in Appendix B. For each question posed, the state was asked to rate its own degree of adoption of that topic. A qualitative rating scale was used, as shown in Table 1. The scoring range allowed in each adoption phase allows the agency to assess whether it is currently giving minimal, moderate, or extensive effort to this topic.

Table 1. Work Zone Self–Assessment Scoring Criteria

Adoption Phase Scoring Range Description
Initiation (0–3) Agency has acknowledged a need for this item and supports further development of the requirements of this item
Development (4–6) Agency has developed a plan or approach to address requirements of this item
Execution (7–9) Agency has executed an approach to meet requirements of this item
Assessment (10–12) Agency has assessed the performance of this item
Integration (13–15) Agency has integrated the requirements of this item into agency culture and practices

Figure 1 illustrates the mean scores for topic questions in each of the six emphasis areas over the 4–year history of the self assessment. Overall, the data indicate gradual increases in adoption of the topics measured in the assessment. On average, state agencies are in the execution phase of adoption in most of the emphasis areas. Program evaluation is lagging slightly, whereas communications and education efforts are believed to have evolved to the assessment phase. Adoption Phase Scoring Range Description Initiation (0–3) Agency has acknowledged a need for this item and supports further development of the requirements of this item Development (4–6) Agency has developed a plan or approach to address requirements of this item Execution (7–9) Agency has executed an approach to meet requirements of this item Assessment (10–12) Agency has assessed the performance of this item Integration (13–15) Agency has integrated the requirements of this item into agency culture and practices Marketing Plan Making Work Zones Work Better 10 Tabular scorings of the 46 individual topic questions over this same time period are provided in Appendix B.

Overall, the self–assessment is a good first step in measuring state highway agency efforts to mitigate the impacts of work zones upon the public. The data suggest that agencies are recognizing the need and implementing processes and techniques for improving work zone safety and mobility in all phases of agency operations and the project development process. Although data from individual states are not made available publicly (and are not likely to be made so in the foreseeable future), it is possible for agencies to critique themselves against these overall trends and identify additional opportunities for improvement.

Figure 1. Yearly Mean Scores by Emphasis Area.

Yearly Mean Scores by Emphasis Area.

At a national level, the information from the self–assessment scores is encouraging. Of course, these are only averages based on state DOT perceptions (quite possibly only the perceptions of one or two individuals in those agencies) of their own performance. Undoubtedly, the quality and quantity of information available will improve as states begin a more regular program of process reviews, as required by the new work zone safety and mobility rule. However, in the interim, the information provided via these assessment, coupled with other available congestion and safety data, has allowed the Office of Operations to identify an initial list of states to "target" with this initiative. The selected states possess three distinct characteristics:

  • Total average self–assessment scores below 8.0, indicating that they have significant opportunity to improve their level of execution of innovations to mitigate the impacts of work zones upon the motoring public
  • One or more metropolitan areas within the 100 most congested cities nationally, implying that efforts to mitigate the mobility impacts at work zones in these areas are likely to result in significant benefits to roadway users
  • Work zone fatalities and rates that imply a potential to mitigate safety impacts within work zones statewide

Table 2 lists a dozen states to be targeted initially and the statistics supporting the emphasis to be placed on those states. The initial six (New Mexico, Kentucky, Arizona, Alabama, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania) have the lower average self assessment scores that imply greater opportunities for improvement. The second six (Massachusetts, Georgia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Missouri, and Nevada) have self–assessment scores that suggest they are in the early execution phase of practicing the MWZWB philosophy.

Table 2. Performance Statistics for Initial Target States.

Target States Average Self–Assessment Score (2006) Million–Vehicle–Miles Travel Statewide per Worked Zone Fatality (2005) Ranking in Top 100 of Congested Cities Nationally (2003)
State "A"
State "B"
State "C"
State "D"
State "E"
State "F"
State "G"
State "H"
State "I"
State "J"
State "K"
State "L"


Certainly, it will be possible for additional states to obtain the assistance being offered under the initiatives of this program. However, the targeted states are where initial outreach efforts will be focused. As additional information from state DOT process reviews begins to be developed, it is expected that additional "opportunity states" will be identified.

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Scott Wolf
Center for Accelerating Innovation

This page last modified on 01/30/13

United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration