Improving Work Zone Operations
This year, April 9 marks the start of National Work Zone Awareness Week. Work zones play a key role in maintaining and upgrading the Nation’s roadways. With aging infrastructure and increasing traffic, roadways more frequently require work zones while remaining open, often leading to crashes and significant delays. With more than 35,000 injuries, 700 fatalities, and almost 900 million hours lost annually because of work zones, how can transportation agencies better manage them and minimize their impacts?
Start with better informed travelers and roadway operators. Providing road users with real-time information about work zones helps them make informed, dynamic trip decisions. Equipping agency operators with historic and real-time mobility and safety data helps them to assess the potential impact of a work zone and make more effective decisions.
The Federal Highway Administration is supporting enhanced dissemination of information through its Smarter Work Zones (SWZ) initiative. SWZ provides resources to pilot, implement, and institutionalize a number of technology applications focused on work zones. These include real-time traveler information, queue warning, incident management, automated enforcement, and performance measurement. Since its inception as part of the third round of the Every Day Counts initiative, SWZ efforts have directly resulted in 39 States incorporating technology applications into their agency practices.
These applications have numerous proven safety and mobility benefits. For example, along the I–35 corridor in Texas, end-of-queue warnings led to a 45-percent crash reduction and lowered the severity of those crashes.
SWZ technology is advancing rapidly, finding applications within the growing field of connected and automated vehicles. For example, Colorado recently began piloting autonomous truck-mounted attenuators for striping operations.
Technology is only part of the solution. Work zone information has become a necessity for data-driven efforts in the management and operation of transportation systems. Data measurement, management, security, assessment, and coordination are priorities for both passenger and commercial vehicles. Information on anticipated work zone impacts can enable freight operators to reduce costs and increase operational efficiencies.
In today’s world, work zone data are important to both public agencies and private industry data providers. Private sector data sources can fill in the gaps for public agencies. For example, the Maryland State Highway Administration has implemented a Work Zone Performance Measure Application, which uses third-party probe data to conduct real-time monitoring of work zones and evaluate archived data.
Currently, there is wide variation in the type and completeness of available data, storage, utilization, and performance management practices. This lack of standardization limits the use and benefit of work zone data.
In response, FHWA’s Work Zone Data Initiative is developing a consistent language for communicating information about work zone activity across jurisdictional and organizational boundaries. The initiative will consider how data are generated, shared, and used by key partners. Data applications will span all stages of project development and implementation, from better project coordination to more comprehensive cost assessments for accelerated construction.
The opportunities and benefits of using data and technology in managing work zone operations are far reaching and are leading to the next level of management practices. For more information, visit www.workzonesafety.org/swz or email Jawad.Paracha@dot.gov. To get involved in the Work Zone Data Initiative, please contact Todd.Peterson@dot.gov.
Jawad Paracha, PE, PTOE
Manager, Work Zone Management Program
Office of Transportation Operations
Federal Highway Administration