In 2019, the average one-way commute time reached a new high of 27.6 minutes. Adults are often dropping off children at school in the morning or rushing into the office — or both. When a driver runs into unexpected traffic delays due to major roadway projects, the morning routine can shift from hectic to frustrating in a matter of minutes.

Major roadway projects typically need to maintain existing traffic while they are being completed. Maintenance of traffic (MOT) is the process of creating a construction work zone that allows for the guidance, organization and control of traffic. Governing agencies, such as the Federal Highway Administration and state departments of transportation, typically establish standards of operation for MOT plans.

Three Reasons to Establish an Effective MOT Plan

While engineers and construction professionals understand the details of a roadway project, the general public may only experience a project while stuck in traffic. Developing a thoughtful MOT plan is critical for major highway and road improvement projects for three important reasons:

  1. Creating a consistent driving environment: Drivers need guidance and signage during highway construction and road maintenance projects. An effective MOT plan incorporates steps to inform the public about major roadway projects. The plan should include appropriate signage reminding drivers to slow down when lanes merge or when the road gets narrower. Local residents who use a highway or roadway on a daily basis may not be aware of upcoming construction zones. It can also be helpful to inform school districts, local media and emergency services about upcoming construction and maintenance projects, so these stakeholders can engage with their constituents.
  2. Providing a safe working environment: Employers have every reason to keep employees safe. This is especially true for dangerous construction sites. Developing an effective MOT plan is essential to comply with safety and health regulations. During a highway or road improvement project, many construction workers are separated from traffic only by plastic channelizers. Drivers are protected by cars, so the risk to workers is far greater than to drivers. According to the Federal Highway Administration, 28,636 people died in work zone crashes from 1982 through 2019. That is about 774 deaths per year. Also, drivers need to slow down before entering a work zone. Appropriate signage not only creates a consistent driving environment, but also alerts drivers to slow down and keep construction crews safe.
  3. Developing cost-effective and efficient strategies: For the construction crew, an MOT plan not only improves safety but it also enables the team to stage the project site in a logical manner to streamline operations. Civil engineers and construction managers need to identify ways to optimize the scope of projects. One simple way to achieve this is to minimize the cost of MOT plans. If a project site can have long work zones instead of short, choppy work zones, more funds can be directed toward materials and other resources to maximize scope. Finally, when safety is prioritized, construction workers can focus on what they are doing rather than worrying about traffic. These important steps can reduce costs and improve efficiencies.

Strategies for Maintaining Traffic

To reach the goals described above, an MOT plan must include detailed strategies. The following tasks will help the project manager address safety, public engagement, timeline and financial goals, while maintaining a consistent flow of traffic:

  • Incorporate simple, legible and standardized signage providing guidance to motorists. This will help drivers quickly identify an upcoming work zone.
  • Identify if the work zone will be operational for a long period of time or a short duration. When projects take longer, use concrete safety barriers. For projects that change lane configurations frequently, temporary barriers may be preferable.
  • Develop a communications plan to provide advance notice of upcoming traffic changes. The communications plan should account for emergencies as well as standard construction and traffic messages. Audiences for a communications plan include the local government, emergency services agencies, school districts, local media and the traveling public.
  • Account for the typical driver near your construction site. Some highways and roads have consistent, daily drivers, while others serve a region or state and have new drivers on a daily basis.

Developing an effective MOT plan requires an understanding of various components, including project logistics, personnel, finances, public engagement and safety measures. Safety for the traveling public and the construction crew is the top priority for any major roadway project and should also be the top priority in an MOT plan.

For families rushing children to school and busy professionals scurrying into work, the benefits of any major roadway project will not be top of mind when they are stuck in traffic. The MOT plan should minimize impacts to the traveling public, because most drivers will only be concerned with any current inconvenience.

Finally, working with local authorities, including police, emergency services and a city’s public works department, can help avoid any hiccups when developing an MOT plan. Working in conjunction with the local public works department, a project manager and department staff can identify alternative routes for drivers and adjust signal timing if necessary. Emergency response professionals can also be on alert for any accidents near a construction site.

Developing an effective MOT plan isn’t easy, but it’s essential to smooth the road to successful project completion.


Whether you are rehabilitating existing highways or developing new transportation networks, these roadway solutions can help you improve critical connections to deliver safe, reliable and efficient travel experiences.

Explore Our Services

Ronnie Williams, PE, PTOE, is a senior associate traffic engineer at Burns & McDonnell. His background includes transportation planning and traffic engineering, promoting the safe and efficient movement of traffic across the nation's transportation system.