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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


Internet Watch

By Jawad Paracha and Rachel Ostroff

Improving Safety and Mobility: ITS in Work Zones

Work zones are a necessary part of maintaining and upgrading the Nation’s highway systems. They are characterized by deviations from normal traffic patterns, narrowed rights-of-way, construction workers in close proximity to traffic, and work vehicles negotiating busy roads on the way to and from construction areas. This combination of factors presents challenges to worker and driver safety, traffic mobility, and project constructability. To help manage these challenges, agencies are increasingly implementing intelligent transportation systems (ITS) in work zones.

Work zone ITS deployments can assist in collecting data about traffic conditions; aid in communication between the field and traffic management centers; and deliver better, detailed, up-to-date messages to upstream traffic to help drivers respond to work zone impacts.

In 2014, FHWA published the Use of Technology and Data for Effective Work Zone Management: Work Zone ITS Implementation Guide (FHWA-HOP-14-008). This guide breaks down the complicated process of planning, procuring, and deploying ITS in work zones into a six-step process. The process begins with a needs assessment to define the work zone management goals and to confirm which ITS solution, if any, is an appropriate complement to achieve those goals. Subsequent steps address key phases of project development, finally concluding with a system evaluation phase to ensure the system accomplished the goals that were defined at the outset.

Screen shot. The opening screen of the Work Zone ITS Tool to begin a new project or open an existing project.

Today, the guide is one of the most frequently requested publications from the FHWA Work Zone Management library. Yet a key challenge remains: translating the system's engineering-based six-step process to use within an agency’s organizational business models. To help State and local agencies bridge this gap between principle and practice, FHWA developed a software companion tool—the Work Zone ITS Implementation Tool. The tool follows the logic and methodology described in the guide, but extends the usefulness of the guide by building it out as an application that leads the user through the process outlined in the guide.

“The guide is great, but it’s a lot of information to process and a little daunting to someone who hasn’t been through a successful ITS deployment before,” says Todd Peterson of FHWA’s Work Zone Management Team. “FHWA wanted a tool to help users apply the principles of the guide, and we thought the best way to do that was for the tool to help keep all the relevant information in one place, and for the tool to automate some of the number crunching and decisionmaking processes where it can. That way the user can make changes on the fly and keep the ITS planning process nimble.”

How It Works

The Work Zone ITS Implementation Tool extends the utility of the guide by building in additional functionality in three key areas: content management, a decision-support system, and streamlining project workflow.

Content management. With any complex project, the main management challenge often is keeping all the basic information—contact persons, operational constraints, and other information—organized and accessible in one place. The tool provides a convenient interface that walks users through entering this information about the project and saving it as a file that serves as a repository of information.

Decision-support system. Based on the inputs provided by the user, the tool automatically generates customized feedback through a series of four “wizards.” The Goals Wizard assists in selecting performance goals for the project. The Feasibility Wizard confirms the overall feasibility of ITS solutions. The Stake holder Wizard assists in identifying appropriate participants for project teams and for broader stakeholder engagement efforts. The Applications Wizard pulls it all together and identifies potential ITS strategies that are most appropriate given a detailed understanding of local considerations, specific project constraints, and user priorities.

Project workflow streamlining. A session with the tool involves entering information about the project, the underlying roadway facility, and the work zone configuration. Once this initial data entry is complete, the wizards process this information—along with some additional user prompts—against a scoring matrix. The user then receives recommendations customized to the project. The user has the capability to play with the weightings for specific criteria so that, ultimately, the output of the tool is based on a combination of the core ITS deployment principles and the user’s own knowledge.

Screen shot. The user interface of the feasibility wizard. The sample project shown received a feasibility score of 41. A score of 30 or more means that “ITS is likely to provide significant benefits and should be considered as a treatment to mitigate impacts.”
The Work Zone ITS Implementation Tool users a series of wizards, including the Feasibility Wizard shown here, to determine whether ITS solutions might be appropriate for a project.

Throughout the process, the project documentation capabilities provide the user with a location to document decisions. The ability to edit inputs, repeat the wizards, save progress, and share tool project files with other users boosts the accessibility of the principles of the guide and increases organizational productivity.

The tool works through a user-friendly interface. The workflow bar provides a visual indication of the progress made in the assessment—highlighting the current step in the process. The step navigator enables the user to go to the corresponding step or sub-step in the process. The input window provides inputs and outputs relevant to the specific step or sub-step. Finally, the project dash board provides real-time feedback about the progress made and recommendations for implementing work zone ITS.

When the process is complete, the tool provides the user with eight fact sheets developed over the course of the assessment. They are a concise set of references and can be exported as PDF files.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) used the tool to assess work zone needs. MassDOT’s Neil Boudreau says, “Through the use of the tool, the department was able to use impact level designation and scoring criteria to assess the need for ITS and make the best decision for deployment.”

Screen shot. A summary generated by the Work Zone ITS Tool showing project data, goals, and feasibility score.
The tool provides fact sheets such as this summary report of the project data, goals, and feasibility score, which can be exported and used as references.


The Work Zone ITS Implementation Tool is free and publicly available through FHWA’s Open Source Application Development Portal at www.itsforge.net/index.php/community/explore-applications#/40/150. The tool operates as a standalone executable program designed to run on individual workstations. Installation requires the download and extraction of a zip file. After the files have been extracted, users can run the tool immediately. No further installation is required. For a complete step-by-step guide, a comprehensive user guide is included with the application and available under the Documentation tab on the application’s Web page.

For more information, contact Todd Peterson at todd.peterson@dot.gov or 202–366–1988.

Jawad Paracha is the manager of the Work Zone Management Program in FHWA’s Office of Transportation Operations.

Rachel Ostroff is a senior manager in ICF’s Transportation Group.




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