Temporary Traffic Controls

According to the federal Department of Transportation (DOT), a “work zone is an area of a highway with construction, maintenance, or utility work activities. A work zone is typically marked by signs, channelizing devices, barriers, pavement markings, and/or work vehicles.”  With more than 600 fatal work zone incidents occurring every year, designing and implementing safe and effective temporary traffic control for work zones does save lives.  A temporary traffic control zone is an area of a roadway where the usual driving conditions are changed because of a work zone in the area.  The main function of temporary traffic control is to provide for the safe and effective movement of road users, including drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, through or around the zones while also protecting workers and equipment in the work zone.  Construction, maintenance, and utility work projects must plan for unexpected or unusual situations that their work will create for road users driving nearby.

Let’s review the purpose and main principles of designing temporary traffic control zones to ensure the safety of everyone, including road users and work zone personnel.  Approach all activities in work zones involving temporary traffic control by focusing on these seven fundamental principles:

  1. Develop a plan to make sure that motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, and workers are safe while the work zone is in place.
  2. As much as possible, avoid interrupting the normal flow of traffic through the work zone and in other areas near the work zone.
  3. Guide traffic in a clear and positive manner as it approaches the work zone to avoid confusing the drivers, which can lead to incidents.
  4. Inspect the work zone both during the day and again at night, to make sure that the traffic control measures are effective in bright daylight conditions, as well as low light conditions.
  5. Maintain all traffic control devices such as lights, barrels, cones, signs, and barriers so that they are clean visible and effective.
  6. Train all members of the team that will be working inside of the work zone, including supervisors, management, and field personnel, on the proper techniques of temporary traffic control.
  7. Communicate with the public before, during, and after the work is performed to help ensure that their safety, as well as the safety of the workers, is considered at all times.

The temporary traffic control implemented for work zones should be designed in such a way that minimizes disruption to usual traffic patterns.  General guidance suggests that drivers will only reduce their speeds if they clearly perceive a need to do so. For this reason, reducing the speed limit in the work zone should be avoided, if possible.  By following the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) templates you are able to avoid abrupt changes to the usual flow of traffic, including lane narrowing, dropped lanes, or rapid lane shifts.  Drivers will not come across an unusual series of signs, or traffic control devices and will understand what is expected of them since they have seen them before. 

The protection of the public, motorists, and traffic driving by a job site or work zone is the first priority when establishing temporary traffic control.  By communicating to drivers, the safe way to proceed through or around the work zone, a safer job site is created and serious hazards can be prevented.  Before any detour is created, all necessary signs should be in place.  Signs and devices should be used in a way that gets the motorist’s attention and provides easy-to-understand direction.  When work is suspended, signs and devices must be covered or removed and when work is completed, then they must be removed from the route.  Workers on or near the roadway may face additional hazards if the zone is not adequately designed for worker safety.  An essential step in implementing temporary traffic control zones is to create a barrier between motorists and the work zone to adequately protect workers.

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