In 2021, over 105,000 crashes occurred in work zones, resulting in over 42,000 injuries and 954 work zone fatalities across the U.S. Such stark statistics highlight the necessity to prioritize safe, efficient traffic flow through work zones for the protection of workers and drivers alike. Navigating construction site needs and safety measures aimed at minimizing hazards for both workers and commuters can be challenging. Effective traffic control is crucial, and it requires experience and proactive planning to be successful.

Strategic traffic control plans are the backbone of any successful transportation project. These plans lay the groundwork for managing traffic flow while construction activities are underway to keep safety at the forefront throughout a project’s life cycle. Traffic control plans encompass a range of considerations, including implementing temporary signals, construction phasing, barrier protections, traffic shifts and detours, all aimed at improving safety through or around a work zone.

Considering the Road

No two work zones are alike, and tailoring solutions to fit the unique context of each project is key to success. Both traffic volume and the type of roadway influence the safety measures that are optimal and should be examined during a project’s planning phase. Whether it's for a bustling urban thoroughfare or an isolated rural route, the strategy must be tailored to suit the specific considerations for each environment.

Updates to a road running through the heart of a busy downtown area might require several alternative routes to accommodate traffic flow, while a back road in the country might function well with traffic diverted to the shoulder. Decisions about which lanes to keep open, what detours to implement, or whether to divert traffic onto opposing lanes should be made before construction begins. Each choice carries its own set of implications for traffic flow and safety, underscoring the importance of thorough planning and meticulous execution for the project team.

Communication Is Key

Effective communication lies at the heart of seamless traffic control operations. Work zone communication, for example, begins with creating an open and ongoing dialog with the contractor about specific construction site needs. This will tailor the work zone design to the specific means and methods the contractor has selected to build a project. Once a work zone plan has been developed, it is important to keep the public notified of plans and changes.

Everything from advanced notifications to real-time updates keeps interested parties informed at all times, which is essential for maintaining public safety and minimizing disruptions. Changeable message signs, social media alerts, newspaper ads and targeted mailers are just some of the tools available to keep the public informed of developments.

Continuous engagement with agencies, municipalities, utilities and community groups is also a crucial communication step. By fostering open dialogue and collaboration, project teams can understand specific traffic demands of different parties and consider all activities that could impact the work zone.

Leveraging Technology

Work zone technologies and best practices are evolving faster than standards are being updated. It is critical that safety professionals stay aware of technological advances to provide optimal safety opportunities for workers and drivers.

At the cutting edge of technology are tools that improve safety for drivers and workers. Work zone mapping provides real-time warnings for expected backups, which can prevent rear-end crashes and encourage drivers to avoid the work zone altogether. Work zone intrusion alarms placed on traffic delineators will loudly notify workers when a car penetrates the work zone, giving them time to find safe refuge.

Some states have installed speed cameras in work zones to catch violators. For example, in Texas, drivers going 11 miles per hour over the speed limit can face a fine up to $2,000. Going beyond regulatory requirements, strategically placed blinking speed limit signs, supported with photo enforcement, also encourage drivers to slow down.

Prioritizing Safety

Above all else, safety remains paramount. Pre-construction site inspections/meetings, enforcement measures, and advocacy for stricter work zone laws are all integral components of a comprehensive safety strategy. Throughout the country, initiatives aimed at reducing speeding and enhancing enforcement are being lobbied for to help prevent work zone injuries or fatalities and protect construction workers and drivers.

The transportation industry is experiencing historic funding and rapid growth, so more projects are underway throughout the country. This means drivers will interact with more work zones every day, and implementing solutions for safe and efficient traffic control has never been more vital. By leveraging experience, embracing innovation and prioritizing collaboration, both drivers and workers in construction zones can remain safe.


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Kristen Harper is a civil engineer at Burns & McDonnell. In her role, she specialized in transportation planning, including feasibility studies and schematics, and developing construction plans for roadways and railroads. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from the University of Arkansas.