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United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - May/Jun 2008

May/Jun 2008
Issue No:
Vol. 71 No. 6
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Training Update

Maintaining a Quality Highway Workforce

by Norah Davis

The National Highway Institute (NHI)

Transportation agencies increasingly are being called upon to build and maintain more highways with fewer staff. Downsizing of agency staff, retirements, and growing competition with the private sector for engineering talent are making it difficult for some highway agencies to sustain an appropriate workforce level.

According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), full-time employment in State departments of transportation (DOTs) has dropped significantly. In one DOT, for example, the full-time-equivalent engineering staff decreased from 5,200 to 3,200 between 1974 and 1994, while expenditures more than doubled. These staffing challenges have led agencies to outsource more of their operations in order to deliver and maintain the Nation’s transportation infrastructure.

As State and local highway agencies shift to contracting much of the planning, design, and construction work, the transportation community needs to ensure that contractors and consultants are trained in the latest technologies and practices — the broader skill sets needed today to meet agency goals. Maintaining a highly qualified staff is an issue not only for highway agencies, but also for consulting firms and contractors.

Traffic control in this work zone on a New York interstate involved marking the transition from two-lane traffic to one lane, using orange drums and a temporary concrete barrier.
Traffic control in this work zone on a New York interstate involved marking the transition from two-lane traffic to one lane, using orange drums and a temporary concrete barrier.

A Growing Role for NHI

Many private companies host National Highway Institute (NHI) courses to help maintain the specific qualifications required by highly competitive transportation contracts. Approximately 12 percent of the participants in NHI sessions that have attendee data from 2007 were participants from the private sector.

In March 2007, for example, an architectural/engineering construction management firm in Buffalo, NY, hosted an NHI course on Design and Operation of Work Zone Traffic Control (FHWA-NHI-380003). Twenty-four individuals from the private sector attended the session. In addition to gaining knowledge of the importance of protecting workers and motorists, participants learned about the effective placement of cones, barrels, and variable message signs and specific items such as the need to maintain sign reflectivity.

About the Course

The course, Design and Operation of Work Zone Traffic Control, targets personnel responsible for designing, installing, and monitoring traffic control in work zones. Upon completing the course, participants understand each step involved in controlling traffic through work zones and can apply workable concepts and techniques for designing, installing, and maintaining traffic controls in construction, maintenance, and utility operations.

Participants learn to identify appropriate principles in the design of traffic control plans and how to apply those plans to site conditions, monitor traffic controls, and make changes in response to traffic conditions and incidents. Instructors also cover techniques and procedures used by different agencies, the legal consequences of action and inaction relative to work zone traffic control, and procedures for managing risk.

Another Buffalo engineering consulting firm hosted a February 2008 session of the work zone course. According to a company official, the firm hosted the course because design specifications, such as the length of safety buffers, change over time. The official applauded the course’s value in helping his staff members keep up to date on the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and the latest safety procedures. In addition, course instructors covered where to find the answers  to particular situations that might not be detailed in a contract, such as mobile closure design specifications or the proper way to do closure of a right-hand lane.

Certificate Program

Design and Operation of Work Zone Traffic Control is one of several courses that make up NHI’s certificate of accomplishment in work zone safety. The four-course suite covers best practices to help transportation practitioners — from both the public and private sectors — design, operate, and maintain highway work zones that improve safety for workers and the driving public.

Successful completion of the following courses with  a passing grade entitles participants to a certificate of accomplishment in work zone safety: Design and Operation of Work Zone Traffic Control (FHWA-NHI-380003); Work Zone Traffic Control for Maintenance Operations (FHWA-NHI-380060); Construction Zone Safety Inspection (FHWA-NHI-380063); and Advanced Work Zone Management and Design (FHWA-NHI-380072).

To read full course descriptions, visit the NHI Web site at To schedule a session, contact the NHI Training Coordinator at 703–235–0534 or

Norah Davis is the editor of Public Roads.