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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 69 · No. 4 > Rule on Work Zone Safety and Mobility

Jan/Feb 2006
Vol. 69 · No. 4

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-2006-002

Rule on Work Zone Safety and Mobility

by Tracy Scriba and Jennifer Seplow

FHWA and States offer guidance and share best practices to facilitate implementation of the regulation.

Construction has the potential to affect safety and mobility for motorists using the road under repair and nearby roads as well. The updated Rule on Work Zone Safety and Mobility contains provisions to help transportation agencies manage those impacts. Here, motorists wait in traffic as they approach a construction zone.
(Above) Construction has the potential to affect safety and mobility for motorists using the road under repair and nearby roads as well. The updated Rule on Work Zone Safety and Mobility contains provisions to help transportation agencies manage those impacts. Here, motorists wait in traffic as they approach a construction zone.

Work zone safety is a major concern in the United States, with 1,065 fatalities and more than 40,000 injuries resulting from work zone crashes in 2004 alone. In addition to the human toll, consider the following: Traffic volumes and congestion are increasing, but little corresponding growth in road miles is happening. Many of the Nation's highways are approaching middle age, requiring additional construction and repair, and thus more work zones. Increasingly, construction is taking place while traffic continues to flow on the facility undergoing repair, which applies greater pressure on contractors to compress schedules, finish projects early, and perform work at night while maintaining safety and quality. Mobility, often referred to as "travel time reliability," is also a key factor associated with work zones, with travelers reporting being frustrated with the delays and unexpected road conditions caused by work zones. This is particularly an issue for road users when a project is in progress but no work appears to be going on for days at a time, yet congestion and delays continue to occur.

The Rule encourages agencies to use innovative construction strategies, such as full road closures, to enhance safety and mobility for workers and drivers. The use of full road closure, as was done here on I-84 in Portland, OR, reduces safety risks to workers and significantly reduces construction time.
The Rule encourages agencies to use innovative construction strategies, such as full road closures, to enhance safety and mobility for workers and drivers. The use of full road closure, as was done here on I-84 in Portland, OR, reduces safety risks to workers and significantly reduces construction time.

These trends underscored a strong case for updating the Federal regulations governing safety and mobility in work zones. After soliciting input from transportation agencies and organizations across the country, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) updated 23 CFR 630 Subpart J, the Rule on Work Zone Safety and Mobility (the Rule), on September 9, 2004.

Published in the Federal Register (69 FR 54562), the Rule updates the former regulation, "Traffic Safety in Highway and Street Work Zones," to address the challenges of today and those likely to be faced in the future. The updated Rule provides a decision-making framework for considering the broader safety and mobility impacts of work zones across all stages of a project. The updated regulation also will facilitate the implementation of appropriate strategies to help manage those impacts.

The broader context takes into consideration that the impacts of work zones may extend beyond the physical location of the construction itself to affect safety and mobility miles away. Not only can work zones affect traffic on the roadway being worked on, but also on other highway corridors and even other modes of transportation.

All State and local governments that receive Federal-aid highway funding must implement the Rule by October 12, 2007. Updating the regulations is just one part of the solution. Ongoing outreach and development of detailed guidance are two methods FHWA is using to disseminate information. The other part of making work zones work better is for State and local transportation agencies to adopt and implement the updated Rule. Highlights follow from some of the States that are using innovative strategies to improve safety and mobility in work zones.

Overview of the Rule

Some of the questions that State and local agencies are asking as they begin implementation include the following: "We know this new Rule exists, but what do we need to do to implement it?" "Does the Rule mean a lot of additional work for my agency?" "How does the Rule differ from what we are already doing?"

Work zones, such as this one near Kalamazoo, MI, have the potential to cause substantial traffic impacts, as can be seen in this photo.
Work zones, such as this one near Kalamazoo, MI, have the potential to cause substantial traffic impacts, as can be seen in this photo.

The level of effort needed to implement the Rule will vary from agency to agency. Some agencies already are adopting aspects of the Rule and may need only to formalize and institutionalize those steps. Others will find they need to change the way they do business. But modifying their procedures promises to yield positive results.

"We are working with FHWA and looking at all the information that has been gathered to help craft the Rule," says Jacqui Yuke Ghezzi, chief of the traffic management branch at the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). "Any time we can borrow information from other States, it's very welcome and helpful."

The updated regulation emphasizes partnerships between FHWA and the States, valuing adaptability and elasticity so that agencies can apply the provisions appropriately to their respective operating circumstances and serve the needs of various kinds of projects. "[FHWA] left the States with the flexibility to address their particular issues," says Dave Holstein, administrator of the Office of Traffic Engineering for the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). "Ohio's needs may be very different from those of a more rural State, for example."

The Rule contains three primary components:

  • Implementation of an overall, agency-level policy on work zone safety and mobility to institutionalize the consideration and management of work zone impacts
  • Development and implementation of agency-level processes and procedures to support policy implementation, including procedures for assessing the impacts of work zones, analyzing data, conducting training, and reviewing processes
  • Development and implementation of project-level procedures to assess and manage the impacts of individual projects, including the creation of transportation management plans (TMPs)

For each component, the Rule includes provisions and guidance to help transportation agencies address work zone considerations early in the planning stages of a project, which is crucial for successfully developing and managing work zones, and throughout the project design, implementation, and performance assessment stages.

Defining and Implementing a Policy

A new component in the Rule requires development and implementation of an overall agency-level policy for work zone safety and mobility. The policy is the first step necessary for State and local agencies to institutionalize planning, design, and operational strategies that reduce congestion (or delay) and crashes due to work zones. Because of the high rates of retirement and turnover within departments of transportation (DOTs) and the increasing use of consultants to do what traditionally was in-house work, formalizing processes and practices will help ensure a consistent way of doing business across projects. Formalized processes also will lead to a greater degree of consistency and uniformity for highway users traveling through work zones. Although the policy must apply to all Federal-aid highway projects, agencies may benefit from applying it to other projects as well.

Agencies are responsible for developing their own work zone policies, but it is recommended that States use a multidisciplinary team and coordinate with counterparts in the FHWA division offices. Although the Rule does not require the inclusion of specific elements, the policy should be customized as appropriate to individual agency needs and should be sensitive to varying project characteristics and the expected impacts of different types of projects. Many agencies already have policy statements that reflect their commitments to managing the safety and mobility impacts of work zones.

Ohio's Work Zone Policy

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) developed and adopted a policy that limits the number of lanes that may be closed for construction and maintenance activities on interstate highways and other freeways. The policy requires sufficient mainline capacity during construction and maintenance and provides for allowable queue thresholds.

ODOT provides training for implementing its work zone policy. The training addresses topics such as the use of traffic modeling software, work zone traffic control, and inspection requirements. The training class is one of several required for approximately 2,500 ODOT highway workers, project inspectors, and others. As part of their prequalifications, consultants also are required to attend a class on work zone design. Testing and certification are required for both ODOT and consultant staff.

For Dave Holstein, administrator of ODOT's Office of Traffic Engineering, the overarching principle of work zone safety and mobility is early planning. "It is absolutely critical to identify potential work zone impacts early enough in the project development process to be able to include an engineering solution in the subsequent plan development," he says. "You don't want to get too far into a project and then realize you needed wider bridges, more right-of-way, or a different environmental footprint to mitigate a work zone impact. When an impact cannot be completely designed out of the project, innovative contracting or innovative construction techniques can be used to minimize the time an impact is present."

In accordance with its policy on lane closures, ODOT uses this Web-based system to determine the number of lanes that can be closed on interstates and other freeways and when they can be closed.
In accordance with its policy on lane closures, ODOT uses this Web-based system to determine the number of lanes that can be closed on interstates and other freeways and when they can be closed. The system is accessible at https://dotaw100.dot.state.oh.us/plcm/plcm_web.jsp.

To help implement the policy, the Rule requires developing and implementing agency-level processes and procedures. This includes procedures for data collection and analysis, training, and process reviews. Agencies also are encouraged to implement the policy through the development and implementation of systematic procedures to assess and manage work zone impacts.

Assessing Potential Work Zone Impacts

California's Policy on Transportation Management Plans

California is one of the few States that has a specific policy on transportation management plans (TMPs). Since the policy's inception in 1993, it has evolved and improved the TMP guidelines for using the most effective mitigation strategies. In July 2001, Caltrans published the most recent version of the "Transportation Management Plan Guidelines," with addenda on bicycle and pedestrian mitigation strategies added in May 2004.

California's policy states that TMPs, "including contingency plans, are required for all construction, maintenance, encroachment permit, planned emergency restoration, locally or specially funded, or other activities on the State highway system. Where several consecutive or linking projects or activities within a region or corridor create a cumulative need for a TMP, Caltrans coordinates individual TMPs or develops a single interregional TMP."

The plans are considered early during the project initiation or planning stage, and the level of detail differs based on project characteristics. The project team includes a district traffic manager or a TMP manager to investigate the level of TMP needed.

Existing procedures can be adapted to assess and manage work zone impacts systematically during project development and implementation. For example, the systematic review of road segments by multidisciplinary teams as part of road safety audits (RSAs) can be adapted for work zone situations. To address work zone impacts, agencies can modify RSA procedures by adding safety considerations and operational aspects specific to work zones. Some agencies have used concepts such as lane rentals, where a contractor must pay to rent a lane in order to close it, to minimize operational impacts. Agencies also can use road user cost as a way to assess potential work zone impacts. Determining road user cost provides the agencies with a method to quantify user costs based on operating and time delays. These and other procedures could be employed more often and even enhanced with minimal effort.

Several States offer examples of procedures currently in use:

  • The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) considers mobility and safety impacts in the initial phases of project development, called scoping. NYSDOT's scoping process identifies mobility needs that may influence the selection of a preferred design alternative.
  • In its policy guidance, Caltrans defines work zone-related delay as follows: "Significant traffic impact is 30 minutes above normal recurring traffic delay on the existing facility or the delay threshold set by the District Traffic Manager, whichever is less."
  • For each of its projects, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) develops a design strategy with a qualitative analysis. The design strategies vary in size, content, and format for different projects and from region to region, as they are developed at the district level with advice from the central office. The central office then reviews the projects. Presently, some regions list all the possible work zone impacts and develop a work zone impact statement. WSDOT currently is trying to implement this approach statewide.
  • In Ohio, ODOT staff analyzes work zone impacts before submitting the first detailed plans, using a process called Maintenance of Traffic Alternative Analysis. The analysis is intended to be a comparison of the benefits and problems related to various alternatives, and the result yields the design team's recommendation. "We can engineer solutions to the problems into the design phase in the first place," says ODOT's Holstein. ODOT completes the analysis early enough to facilitate selecting alternatives and identifying right-of-way and environmental impacts in time to address them.

Developing and implementing procedures to assess the impacts of work zones can streamline the process of identifying significant projects and developing and implementing TMP strategies to mitigate work zone impacts, both of which are new requirements of the updated Rule.

Identifying Significant Projects

Recognizing that not all road projects cause the same level of impact, the updated work zone Rule establishes a category for "significant" projects. A significant project is one that by itself or in combination with other nearby projects is anticipated to cause sustained impacts that are greater than considered tolerable, according to State policy and/or engineering judgment. In addition, under the updated Rule, all projects on the interstate system within the boundaries of a designated Transportation Management Area are deemed significant projects if they occupy a location for more than 3 days with either intermittent or continuous lane closures.

The classification of significant projects is intended to help States think through project coordination and scheduling and focus their resources where they are needed most. The classification also will determine which requirements in the TMP apply to the project.

Radio stations, project telephone hotlines, and Web sites, ideally in a short, easily remembered format, are effective strategies for providing drivers with work zone information. This sign was located near a road project south of Flagstaff, AZ.
Radio stations, project telephone hotlines, and Web sites, ideally in a short, easily remembered format, are effective strategies for providing drivers with work zone information. This sign was located near a road project south of Flagstaff, AZ.

Transportation Management Plans

A TMP consists of strategies to manage the impacts of work zones. A TMP's scope, content, and level of detail will vary based on each State's work zone policies and the anticipated impacts of individual projects.

The requirement for developing and implementing TMPs builds on the former Rule's requirement for traffic control plans. For all projects, TMPs must contain traditional temporary traffic control plans that address traffic safety and control in work zones. If a project is identified as a significant project, the TMP also must contain both transportation operations and public information components. The operations component addresses management of the transportation system in the region affected by the work zone. The public information component outlines communication with the public and stakeholders--both before and during the project--about what to expect in and around the work zone and about travel alternatives.

Some agencies already are using these strategies to great benefit in managing the impacts of work zones. "Based on our experience, public information is the TMP mitigation strategy that gives us the biggest bang for the buck," says Robert Copp, chief of the Division of Transportation System Information with Caltrans. "Its effectiveness is greater in urban areas but still holds true in rural areas." The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) also reports success with public information efforts, including the campaign for the Upgrade I-74 project. Because IDOT used consistent messages in all of its marketing materials to detail the importance of the project to future safety, the project has been well received by the public. Similar messages were shared through various outreach mechanisms, including the Web, radio announcements, brochures, and at community events.

Similarly, by partnering with the news media throughout the I-65/I-70 Hyperfix reconstruction project, the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) obviated the gridlock that many feared would shut down Indianapolis. Instead, people changed their travel behaviors, and INDOT officials deemed the overall project a success. INDOT's outreach tactics included media interviews and notices, public meetings, advertising, displays at local rest stops, and distribution of 250,000 maps showing recommended alternative routes. INDOT even created a logo, which shows a running construction worker, and matching signage for Hyperfix 65/70.

A project logo, such as this one used for the Upgrade 74 project in Illinois, can be an effective component of a public outreach campaign. Once people become familiar with the logo they will begin to identify information and materials associated with the project.
A project logo, such as this one used for the Upgrade 74 project in Illinois, can be an effective component of a public outreach campaign. Once people become familiar with the logo they will begin to identify information and materials associated with the project.

In terms of transportation operations strategies, the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) deployed a variety of intelligent transportation system (ITS) technologies to manage traffic through the work zone at its Big I construction project (I-40/I-25) in Albuquerque. The high volume of traffic moving through the Big I created the potential for congestion. Incidents would cause further congestion and require rapid response to avoid additional delays. A system was needed to provide accurate information, support quick identification of incidents, and help manage traffic through the area. NMDOT used a mobile traffic monitoring and management system during the project to help maintain traffic flow and facilitate rapid responses to crashes.

Several States use ITS technologies in the form of mobile traffic monitoring and management systems to help move vehicles through construction areas. This image shows some of the ITS equipment deployed by IDOT to monitor traffic flow in a work zone on I-64 in September 2005.
Several States use ITS technologies in the form of mobile traffic monitoring and management systems to help move vehicles through construction areas. This image shows some of the ITS equipment deployed by IDOT to monitor traffic flow in a work zone on I-64 in September 2005.

Resources for Implementation

A number of resources are available to help State and local agencies implement the updated Rule and improve the effectiveness and safety of their work zones. Several guidance documents offer advice and suggestions that can help agencies that already are implementing aspects of the Rule and need to enhance their progress, as well as those that may have to change some of the ways they do business.

Additional Tools

  • QuickZone-A tool that road owners and contractors can use to estimate work zone delays and analyze and compare project alternatives, such as performing highway work at night instead of during the day or diverting traffic to alternate roads at various stages of construction. For more information, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/research/topics/operations/travelanalysis/quickzone/.
  • Full Road Closure for Work Zone Operations-A series of documents describing how several State DOTs used a full closure approach to reduce the impacts of road rehabilitation and reconstruction projects. For more information, visit www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/wz/construction/full_rd_closures.htm.
  • Innovative Contracting Guidance-Resources for innovative contracting methods, including a link to an online knowledge exchange. For more information, visit www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/wz/contracting/index.htm.
  • ITS in Work Zones-A series of documents that raise awareness among maintenance and construction engineers and managers of the applications and benefits of ITS in work zones. For more information, visit www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/wz/its/index.htm.
  • Work Zone Training Courses-A new National Highway Institute (NHI) course, Advanced Work Zone Management and Design (#380072A), provides planners, designers, construction managers, and other transportation professionals with additional knowledge of technical and nontechnical aspects of work zone design and traffic management practices. For more information, visit www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov.
  • Road Safety Audits-Guidance on performing audits to assess a project's crash potential and safety performance. For more information, visit http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/rsa/.

Implementing the Rule on Work Zone Safety and Mobility (FHWA-HOP-05-065). This guidance document covers each element of the Rule and provides suggestions for implementation. The guide provides a general overview and examples of strategies, best practices, resources, and tools for implementing the Rule's provisions. For example, one section on developing and implementing an overall policy covers the systematic consideration of the work zone impacts of road projects. The guide suggests elements to include in the policy and lays out suggested steps for implementation. Other topics include tips on identifying significant projects, developing TMPs, and using work zone safety and operational data.

Work Zone Impacts Assessment: An Approach to Assess and Manage Work Zone Safety and Mobility Impacts of Road Projects (FHWA-HOP-05-068). This document offers some guiding principles and a general approach for assessing and managing the potential impacts of road projects. The work zone Rule does not prescribe a specific approach to establishing procedures to assess the impacts, but rather the intent of the guide is to help agencies develop their own procedures. FHWA used a variety of methods to illustrate recommended activities and decisionmaking factors, including process diagrams, workflow explanations, real-world examples, and links to more detailed information about each example.

Changeable message signs such as this one can assist with public information and outreach efforts by alerting drivers that they are approaching work zones and offering information about alternative routes. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (Section 6F.55) contains provisions on the use of changeable message signs.
Changeable message signs such as this one can assist with public information and outreach efforts by alerting drivers that they are approaching work zones and offering information about alternative routes. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (Section 6F.55) contains provisions on the use of changeable message signs.

The approach used in the guide is structured to mirror the program delivery process commonly used by State DOTs. The guide presents the assessment process activities for work zone impacts organized according to the program delivery stages as follows:

  • Developing and implementing an overall work zone safety and mobility policy at the policy level
  • Conducting a first-cut work zone impacts assessment at the systems-planning level
  • Conducting a project-level assessment of work zone impacts during preliminary engineering
  • Conducting a detailed project-level assessment of work zone impacts during design
  • Monitoring and managing work zone impacts during construction
  • Conducting post-construction work zone performance assessments
  • Incorporating work zone impacts assessment procedures in ongoing management, operations, and maintenance

Developing and Implementing Transportation Management Plans for Work Zones (FHWA-HOP-05-066). This guide can help agencies develop, implement, and monitor TMPs. The document takes into consideration the variety of objectives, needs, and issues by project. However, agencies ultimately need to establish and implement plans that most effectively serve the mobility and safety needs of the motoring public, construction workers, businesses, and community.

The guide highlights the benefits of TMPs and offers recommendations on how and when to develop them. A comprehensive list of possible components and a checklist for developing TMPs also are included to help agencies develop their own guidelines. Another feature is a matrix of strategies for managing work zone impacts, such as traffic control devices, project coordination, motorist information, incident management, and enforcement. The matrix briefly mentions benefits or effects of certain strategies, such as whether a given measure is intended to improve safety or reduce delays. It also outlines project characteristics that could qualify certain strategies for consideration. Other important features in the TMP guide include Web links to sample plans, policies, and procedures; related references and literature; and an overview of findings on current practices drawn from a literature review and interviews with State DOT personnel.

Work Zone Public Information and Outreach Strategies Guide (FHWA-HOP-05-067). To help States communicate better with stakeholders, the guide presents information based on a review of approximately 30 project-specific outreach campaigns for work zones located across the country. The campaigns represent projects that run the gamut in size and complexity from a major multiyear interstate reconstruction project to an interstate rehabilitation project completed over 2 weekends to a street widening project in the downtown of a small city. A variety of information, including notes on practices used and materials developed, the use of outside public relations consultants, and approximate budget size, was collected from officials associated with each project.

The underlying theme is that successful public information and outreach campaigns are typically well thought out by project partners and planned well before construction. For highway officials planning a public information and outreach campaign, the guide provides tips, examples, and practices on a range of topics, including the following:

  • Information needed to plan and evaluate a campaign
  • Details that need to be conveyed to the public, such as project duration, details of lane closures, up-to-the-minute information on traffic delays, and alternative routes or methods of transportation
  • Methods of communication, such as newspaper advertisements, brochures, interactive Web pages, and dynamic message signs
  • Suggestions on when to begin a public outreach campaign
  • Target audiences that need to be reached
  • Use of the mass media to spread the message

All of the aforementioned documents are available online at www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/wz/resources/final_rule.htm. Requests for hardcopies should be e-mailed to: workzonepubs@fhwa.dot.gov. See "Additional Tools" for more information about courses, publications, and tools available to help agencies implement the Rule.

Taking the Plunge

The implementation guidance documents provide a jumping-off point for information on the nuances of the updated Rule, tried-and-true State practices, and opportunities for modifying existing policies and practices to meet the new requirements. As transportation agencies move forward with implementation, representatives from FHWA headquarters, division offices, and the Resource Center will be available to assist them on the road to compliance.

The updated Rule fosters customer-focused project delivery that considers both the safety and mobility impacts of work zones, from initial systems planning through construction and maintenance. In implementing the provisions of the Rule, agencies will be building on their current efforts to manage work zones. The end result is that work zones will work better, and safety and mobility will increase.


Tracy Scriba is a program manager for FHWA's Work Zone Mobility and Safety Team in Washington, DC. She is leading FHWA's efforts to support implementation of the updated Rule. She also leads FHWA efforts related to best practices for work zones, performance measures, use of full closures for roadwork, and application of ITS in work zones. She holds a systems engineering degree from the University of Virginia.

Jennifer Seplow is a research analyst with Science Applications International Corporation in McLean, VA. She currently supports FHWA's Work Zone Mobility and Safety Program, primarily assisting with outreach efforts for the updated Rule on work zone safety and mobility. She holds a B.S. in commerce from the University of Virginia.

For more information, please visit the FHWA "Work Zone Mobility and Safety Program" Web site at www.fhwa.dot.gov/workzones. The full text of the Rule is available at www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/wz/docs/wz_final_rule.pdf.

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