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Publication Number:      Date:  July/August 2001
Issue No: Vol. 65 No. 1
Date: July/August 2001



by Deborah Curtis

What is the true cost of a road construction or improvement project? Very few state and local highway officials or construction contractors can give a full answer, even after projects are completed and paid for. That's because, in the overwhelming majority of cases, officials and contractors have calculated only "hard costs," such as labor and materials.

But there are also "soft costs" to every road project. These are the costs to road users - motorists and their passengers - who must spend extra minutes or even hours of their valuable time in their vehicles trying to negotiate their way through work zones. This type of traveler delay is significant - especially to the traveler - but its cost is rarely factored in.

Meanwhile, the traveler must operate with only a vague idea of what his/her delays will be. He knows there will be delays, but he doesn't know how long they will last.

In short, a tool to quantify delays and estimate user cost would benefit everyone affected by work zones, including highway officials, workers, and motorists.

Enter QuickZone. QuickZone is recently released software that will estimate traveler delay due to work zones. By doing so, it will provide a more complete and realistic view of total construction costs. The software was developed by the Office of Research, Development, and Technology in the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and by Mitretek Systems.

QuickZone is a key component of the Strategic Work-Zone Analysis Tools (SWAT) Program of FHWA. The SWAT team at FHWA's Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in McLean, Va., developed QuickZone following the 1998 release of the FHWA report Meeting the Customer's Needs for Mobility and Safety During Construction and Maintenance Operations.

This report states that road-user cost is typically not considered when construction zones are planned. It recommends the development of an analytic tool, such as an easy-to-use software program, that would estimate and quantify work-zone delays and resulting user costs.

QuickZone will provide results in an easily readable spreadsheet form.

"Spreadsheets are tools that people are familiar with," said James Larkin, a senior systems engineer at Mitretek. "We wanted it to be easy for people to use, easy for them to put information in, and to get information out."

This tool is particularly necessary in light of the fact that many interstate highways are approaching the end of their design life. As a result, work zones are encountered more and more frequently. The motorist is affected not only as he commutes to work but on pleasure trips as well. Frustration with work-zone delays will only continue to increase.

QuickZone, a Microsoft Excel Workbook application, can be used by anyone with Excel 97 or higher. The only other requirements are a Windows-based computer with minimal memory and processing speed. The cost of the software is also minimal - in the $200 range. The typical QuickZone users are state and local highway officials and other officials planning highway construction. However, consultants may also use QuickZone to analyze different project alternatives.

To use QuickZone, a user would input data such as:

The program is designed so that the setup of a typical work-zone network should take less than an hour. Once the data is entered, results should be available in graphic form in about three minutes. The graphic will display the amount of delay in vehicle-hours as well as the maximum length of the queue that can be expected.

Once officials, planners, and contractors have these numbers, they can analyze them to determine whether the amount of delay is reasonable and acceptable. If so, they can proceed on course. But if not, QuickZone can help once again. The program will offer suggestions for bringing the amount of delay under control. Suggestions may include:

Armed with this information, officials and contractors can figure out the best schedule for construction, taking user costs (motorist costs) into account. QuickZone simply provides a more realistic and complete view of total construction costs.

QuickZone is available now on the Web (www.tfhrc.gov/its/quickzon.htm), but the program has not yet been field-tested. A version of QuickZone (1.0) that has been field-tested, using data from work zones, will be available in October. QuickZone (1.0) and full technical support will be available from McTrans at the University of Florida.

Strategic Workzone Illustration.
Strategic Workzone Analysis Tools

The program has been well-received so far. In addition, highway officials, construction contractors, and universities have expressed interest. So have the U.S. military services, which build roads on bases, as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which builds roads on Native American reservations.

FHWA and Mitretek are eager to develop partnerships for field-testing QuickZone. One potential partnership will be with the University of Maryland. The university has its own version of the program and is modifying it for use by the Maryland Department of Transportation.

The QuickZone partnership program is open to all interested parties. FHWA will provide free source code and technical support in exchange for rights to include any updates or additions in the FHWA-release version of QuickZone.

"I think we've hit gold," said Larkin. "We've gotten a very positive response. We really think we've filled a niche. We think we can achieve a substantial reduction in user delay. What is the cost to the user sitting in his car? That is the heart of the QuickZone program."

Deborah Curtis is a highway research engineer on the Travel Management Team of FHWA's Office of Operations Research and Development.

Go to the QuickZone Web site at: http://www.tfhrc.gov/its/quickzon.htm




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Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center | 6300 Georgetown Pike | McLean, VA | 22101