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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-18-004    Date:  Summer 2018
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-18-004
Issue No: Vol. 82 No. 2
Date: Summer 2018

 

Improving Work Zones Every Day, in Every Way

by Jawad Paracha and Rachel Ostroff

FHWA has developed a comprehensive set of programs, strategies, and tools for the management of safer and more efficient temporary traffic control.

Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Photo. A highway with an active work zone with dynamic message signs for stopped traffic ahead and an arrow board indicating a closed lane.
FHWA is helping transportation agencies better manage work zones to minimize delays and incidents.

 

The addition of work zones on busy roadways is a formula for crashes and increased congestion. In 2015, more than 96,000 crashes related to work zones resulted in 35,000 people injured and more than 700 reported fatalities. In addition, work zones are responsible for almost one-quarter of all nonrecurring freeway delays. Work zones are a necessary part of maintaining and upgrading our highway system, but in recent years, work zone crashes and fatalities have increased. Innovative construction management solutions are needed now more than ever.

Work zones are characterized by traffic pattern changes, narrowed rights-of-way, the presence of construction workers, and work vehicles frequently entering and leaving construction areas. This combination of factors presents challenges for passenger and commercial vehicles driving in and around work zones.

Crashes in and near work zones impact everyone. In addition to injuries and fatalities among travelers, work zones can create hazardous conditions for highway workers. The leading causes of death in the road and bridge construction sector are run overs, back overs, and falls, with many of these fatalities due to vehicle intrusion. Simply put, drivers, passengers, and field workers are all at risk.

The Federal Highway Administration is continuing numerous efforts under its Work Zone Management Program to mitigate the safety and mobility impacts of work zones. “In response to the current environment, the program is working to improve work zones every day, in every way,” says Paul Pisano, leader of FHWA’s Road Weather and Work Zone Management Team.

FHWA’s Work Zone Management Program supports transportation practitioners through a comprehensive set of innovative strategies and tools, including intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technologies, improved data collection, training grants, and resources tailored to the commercial trucking industry and State and local agencies. These tools and programs help with planning, designing, and implementing safer, more efficient, and less congested work zones.

Smarter Work Zones

In 2015, FHWA launched the Smarter Work Zones (SWZ) initiative to help agencies better design, plan, coordinate, and operate work zones. SWZ started as one of 11 selected innovations under round three of FHWA’s Every Day Counts (EDC). SWZ includes two strategies: (1) project coordination to harmonize construction projects to reduce work zone impacts, and (2) technology applications, such as queue management and speed management systems, to dynamically control traffic in and around work zones.

Work zones may be synchronized with other work zones within a corridor, network, or region, and possibly across agency jurisdictions, to minimize combined impacts to travelers and to produce time and cost savings. Early identification of potential impacts enables agencies to improve the coordination of construction activities, resulting in a greater ability to reduce and manage traffic disruptions from road work, minimizing traveler delay and maximizing road work efficiency. ITS technologies support the dynamic management of work zones and provide actionable information to drivers and traffic managers. As a result, drivers can make more informed decisions leading to reduced congestion and improved safety.

Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Photo. A portable electronic message sign at the side of a road reads, “Hewitt, 18 miles, 39 minutes.”
This dynamic message sign provides travelers with real-time information on the expected travel time to the indicated destination.

 

Through EDC efforts, SWZ has been publicized to organizations nationwide. Numerous State and local agencies adopted the initiative, set goals, and showed marked improvements in work zone safety and mobility in their jurisdictions. By the end of the EDC promotional period in December 2016, 9 States had institutionalized project coordination practices and an additional 18 States had incorporated strategies and software tools into their processes for planning, design, operations, and maintenance. Eleven States had mainstreamed technology tools and strategies, and another 28 States had incorporated applications into their agency practices.

Smarter Work Zones: Technology Applications
Agencies can use a variety of ITS applications to enhance work zone mobility and safety.
  • Real-time traveler information systems provide drivers with real-time travel conditions prior to and within a work zone, and may also provide information on alternative routes in the corridor. The goal is to divert drivers away from the work zone when congestion exists.
  • Queue warning systems quickly detect the presence of congestion at the work zone and warn approaching motorists that traffic is slowed or stopped ahead.
  • Dynamic lane merge systems encourage motorists to merge at specific points as they approach a lane closure, depending on current operating conditions.
  • Incident management systems enable agencies, contractors, and responders to detect incidents in the work zone faster, allowing quicker response and clearance.
  • Variable speed limit systems harmonize speeds before and within the work zone, calming traffic flow and warning of slowed or stopped traffic ahead.
  • Automated enforcement systems detect and capture images of speeding vehicles for enforcement purposes.
  • Entering/exiting vehicle notification warns drivers of slow-moving construction vehicles that may be entering the travel lane. It can also warn travelers that a work vehicle is exiting the travel lane and not to follow it into the work space.
  • Performance measurement systems monitor and archive data on traffic conditions to support real-time traveler information dissemination, modify operations, and facilitate evaluation.

 

Agency deployments demonstrate the SWZ program’s proven impact. For example, the Smart Work Zones program of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) not only implements ITS-based alerts for road users about work zones but also provides institutionalized procedures and guidelines for the applicability and recommended use of technology applications across the State. According to the concept of operations document for the program, the goal is to consider and apply ITS tools consistently based on a specific impact level and a preset scoring criteria.

“MassDOT is using a wide range of technologies... to get higher quality, real-time traffic data into the hands of its customers... to reduce delays and improve safety through our work zones,” says Neil Boudreau, State traffic engineer with MassDOT.

Other examples include the promotion of connected and autonomous vehicle technologies, such as Colorado DOT’s demonstration in August 2017 of a first-of-its-kind autonomous impact protection vehicle. Traditional rear protection vehicles are positioned behind road crews to protect workers from traffic, but they still involve risk to the vehicle’s driver. The driverless vehicle is designed to withstand hits without the associated risk to a driver. Once positioned in a work zone, the truck mimics the position, speed, and direction of a lead vehicle, which transmits a signal to the trailing driverless vehicle. The truck uses a rear-mounted attenuator, or crash cushion, to absorb or deflect vehicles that cross into work zones.

“[Transportation agencies] across the country want to save lives and make people’s lives better,” says Shailen Bhatt, Colorado DOT’s executive director. “Here in Colorado, every year, six crash attenuator trucks get hit... We want to use automation to get people out of these jobs.”

With regard to project coordination, the District of Columbia DOT developed and is currently implementing a citywide transportation management plan to track and evaluate work zone impacts over a 5-year period. The result is cost-effective strategies to mitigate congestion and improve safety and mobility.

While official promotion through EDC concluded in 2016, SWZ resources remain available. Transportation agencies can access the SWZ final report online at www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/reports/edc3_final. Other resources, related publications, case studies, tools, demonstration site visits, and webinars are available from FHWA’s SWZ website at www.workzonesafety.org/swz.

Work Zone Data Initiative

Data are becoming increasingly integral to the operations and maintenance activities of transportation agencies. Many agencies have long faced the challenge of how to best gather work zone activity data. While once the sole purview of transportation agencies, information on work zone activity has become a topic of interest among an evolving ecosystem of stakeholders, including those developing assistive technologies for work zone management. In response, FHWA recently launched the Work Zone Data Initiative, the largest effort to tackle the data problem to date. The goals of the initiative are (1) to develop a recommended practice for managing work zone data and (2) to create a consistent language for communicating information on work zone activity across jurisdictional and organizational boundaries.

Colorado DOT
Photo. A large truck with a rear attenuator follows another vehicle on a dirt road.
Colorado DOT recently demonstrated the use of a driverless, autonomous vehicle with impact protection. The vehicle uses ITS technology to maintain a position behind a lead vehicle.

 

“The program’s mission is broad and forward-looking, and it has significant implications beyond the traditional stakeholders of highway construction,” says Todd Peterson of FHWA’s Work Zone Management Program. “Understanding the current and future applications for the data is key.”

The data initiative is considering how work zone activity is defined and how this contributes to improved performance measurement, forecasting, real-time operations, and programmatic decision making. It is also exploring how data are generated, shared, and used between various stakeholders. Stakeholders include government, industry, academia, and the traveling public; agencies responsible for optimizing work zone safety, mobility, and constructability; and analysts leveraging big data to develop better solutions for traffic control. Other stakeholders to consider include vendors and manufacturers developing connected hardware to facilitate vehicle-to-infrastructure networks, and private-sector traveler information services that track real-time event data in map applications.

FHWA is working with practitioners across the country to develop a national specification for work zone activity data that supports use across the life cycle of project delivery, and with awareness of the broad stakeholder community. FHWA is also exploring potential uses of the data in project planning, real-time operations, and post-activity analytics. The effort includes stakeholder participation in a pilot exchange of open-source data on work zone activity. The initiative will culminate in a series of publications documenting recommended practices for implementing data management specifications and business processes for work zone activity.

For more information, visit FHWA’s Work Zone Management Program website at https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/wz/index.asp.

Large Trucks in Work Zones

Previous research and outreach have focused largely on passenger vehicle safety and mobility in work zones. However, the challenges that large trucks and buses must contend with when driving through work zones are different and more complex. Longer stopping distance requirements, larger blind spots, reduced maneuverability due to narrower lanes, and reduced brightness or increased glare during nighttime operations create hazards that can lead to injuries and fatalities.

Every year, large trucks are overrepresented in fatal work zone crashes. In 2016, 184 crashes involved large trucks, accounting for more than one-quarter of fatal work zones crashes nationwide. By comparison, only 9 to 12 percent of fatal crashes outside of work zones involve large trucks each year.

To address this overrepresentation, FHWA is partnering with Federal and State government agencies, trucking associations, and other safety stakeholders to conduct a multiyear campaign to improve large truck safety in work zones. The agency has developed and continues to grow its suite of resources, including webinars, brochures, and guidance documents.

In 2015, FHWA enhanced these efforts with the National Symposium on Work Zones and Large Trucks. More than 90 practitioners from State DOTs, FHWA, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the American Traffic Safety Services Association, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as various law enforcement agencies, academia, and other industry representatives came together for a day of discussion to identify focus areas and solutions.

“Truck drivers deal with many unique challenges due to [the vehicles’] size and maneuverability,” says Herschel Evans of America’s Road Team, a national public outreach program. “It is critically important for drivers to know when work zones are active. The more advanced the warning, the more likely the driver is to be in the right mindset to safely maneuver through it.”

The symposium resulted in FHWA developing an outreach plan to enhance current efforts. Additionally, FHWA and others are integrating messaging about large trucks into efforts like National Work Zone Awareness Week to get the word out.

Work Zone ITS Planning Tool

It is crucial for highway agencies to identify how best to manage each work zone. FHWA’s Work Zone Intelligent Transportation Systems Implementation Guide (FHWA-HOP-14- 008) provides practitioners with step-by-step guidance to determine the feasibility, design, and deployment for application-specific ITS technology for work zones.

© Oleg Bezrukov, Shutterstock.com
Photo. Impact of a passenger vehicle colliding with the back of a truck. The truck shows minimal damage, but the passenger vehicle sustained significant damage to the front end, with several pieces of the car frame having fallen off the car.
Several types of crashes involving large trucks can occur in work zones, like the rear-end collision shown here.

 

FHWA recently developed a companion Work Zone ITS Implementation Tool. The tool helps simplify the process of planning, designing, and deploying work zone ITS by streamlining the collection of relevant data, facilitating sharing and collaboration, supporting decisionmaking based on user input, and providing useful feedback based on the principles of the guidebook. For more information, visit https://itsforge.net/index.php/community/explore-applications#/40/150 or see “Improving Safety and Mobility: ITS in Work Zones” on page 44 in this issue of Public Roads.

Work Zone Safety Grant Program

External partnership support is key to FHWA’s mission of reducing work zone-related safety impacts. FHWA’s Work Zone Safety Grant Program provides funding to nonprofit and not-for-profit organizations to develop safety-related guidelines and training courses for field workers and agency and private-sector practitioners. As of 2017, FHWA has awarded more than $40 million in grant funds, with the following outcomes:

  • Trained more than 101,000 practitioners and craft workers

  • Conducted more than 3,800 training courses

  • Offered more than 95 training modules, such as work zone designer training and work zone road safety audits

  • Developed a comprehensive e-learning program

  • Produced more than 55 guideline publications

FHWA will continue funding the development of new products through 2022. “These guidelines, training courses, and other resources are expected to provide benefits and positive impacts for years to come,” says Martha Kapitanov of FHWA’s Work Zone Management Program.

Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Photo. An electronic message sign at the side of a road reads, “Be prepared to stop.”
Queue warning signs like this one alert drivers of congestion or stopped traffic ahead.

 

For more information, visit www.workzonesafety.org/training-resources/fhwa_wz_grant.

Additional Resources for State and Local Agencies

To support State and local transportation agencies in enhancing their work zone management practices, FHWA has produced a number of publications and other resources.

When conducting work zone planning efforts, agencies must develop and implement a transportation management plan. This plan lays out what strategies should be used and how. The plan might include temporary traffic control measures and devices, operational strategies, and public information and outreach.

To support practitioners in formulating a consistent approach to assess the effectiveness of their selected management strategies, FHWA published the Transportation Management Plan Effectiveness Framework and Pilot (FHWA-HOP-16-062) report. For each strategy, the report includes an inventory of measures of effectiveness along with a framework to guide users on the methods, scope, and effectiveness of their evaluations. FHWA also produced Federal-Aid Essentials videos on Transportation Management Plan (TMP) Requirements and Work Zone Traffic Control Reviews. The videos and many more are available at www.fhwa.dot.gov/federal-aidessentials/indexofvideos.cfm. Self-paced online TMP training modules are available at https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/wz/outreach/outreach.htm.

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) mandates that State agencies receiving Federal-aid funds perform work zone process reviews every 2 years. In 2015, FHWA published an updated process review document, Guidance for Conducting Effective Work Zone Process Reviews (FHWA-HOP-15-013), to share best practices and proven methods used by States for these reviews. By implementing these practices, agencies will find more consistent and targeted improvement in work zone policies and procedures.

Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Photo. A damaged truck with an orange warning sign on the back that reads, “Work Convoy.” A crumpled attenuator with red and white reflective markings is attached to the rear of the truck, and debris from a crash is scattered on the ground nearby.
Trucks in work zones may be equipped with attenuators, such as this one shown after a crash, to absorb the impact of vehicles that cross into a work zone, protecting the highway workers.

 

In addition, a transportation agency’s institutional capabilities impact its ability to manage work zones effectively. FHWA created its Work Zone Capability Maturity Framework to help practitioners assess the capability of their agency or region to effectively manage work zones. This includes assessing work zone impacts and implementing strategies for mitigating those impacts. FHWA is providing support through in-person workshops to engage regions in identifying capability levels as well as prioritizing and creating action plans to enhance their capabilities. The framework is available at https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/tsmoframeworktool/available_frameworks/work_zone.htm.

FHWA continues to look for new ways to improve work zone safety and to help State and local agencies in their efforts. Recently, FHWA kicked off work to develop specific criteria and guidelines for the use of “positive protection” devices in highway work zones. These devices contain or redirect intruding vehicles and include various types of barriers and shadow vehicles with energy-absorbing attenuators. The CFR requires transportation agencies responsible for temporary traffic control planning and design to consider the use of positive protection in work zones. The positive protection devices should be used when work zone conditions place workers at an increased risk of being struck by vehicles and where the devices offer the highest potential for increasing safety for workers and road users. FHWA’s guidelines will help transportation agencies determine appropriate devices and when and how to deploy them. FHWA expects to release the guidelines in 2019.

“Work zones are an integral part of maintaining our country’s roads,” says Mark Kehrli, director of FHWA’s Office of Transportation Operations. “Through FHWA efforts, we are helping to save lives and increase mobility across the Nation’s transportation network.”


Jawad Paracha is the manager of the Work Zone Management Program in FHWA’s Office of Transportation Operations. He holds a master of engineering degree in transportation engineering and planning from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from the University of Engineering and Technology in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Rachel Ostroff is a senior manager in ICF’s Transportation Group. She holds a master of science degree in transportation engineering from Cornell University and a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park.

For more information, see https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/wz/index.asp or www.workzonesafety.org, or contact Jawad Paracha at 202–366–4628 or jawad.paracha@dot.gov.

 

 

 

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