Better information builds safer workzones

IMG_0909Every year work zones pop up all over Iowa as soon as the weather starts to warm up. Preparing in advance to make those work zone as safe and efficient as possible is no easy feat. Designing a safe work zone is much more than just putting out some cones. There is a lot of data to analyze and best practices to follow to make sure a work zone keeps you moving toward your destination.

One of the key factors in a safe, efficient work zone is consistency. As a driver, you need to know what to expect when you see that “road work ahead” sign. In an effort to make work zones more consistent and centralize work zone best practices, the Iowa Department of Transportation has gathered information together in a Work Zone Reference Library. This online ‘toolbox’ will help Iowa DOT, county and city engineers, and our industry partners ensure each work zone is set up as consistently, effectively, and safely as possible.

WRL page
Work Zone Reference Library

The website is a one-stop-shop for work zone information that can be used by any agency that needs to set up a roadway work zone. It was created by an Iowa DOT group that is working to integrate proven best practices to help improve how our transportation system functions.

The reference library brings together information on all aspects related to work zones. Wes Musgrove, who headed up the group that designed the library, said, “This tool has already proven to be very useful to our own Iowa DOT folks, but we intentionally included information useful to our contracting partners and county and local agencies, too.”

As you would expect, the library is a repository for a number of manuals and handbooks related to work zones, putting all of Iowa’s work zone resources and documentation in one easy-to-use location. Musgrove said, “From design manuals to inspection tools to the flagger handbook, the library is a resource that will provide information for any group to set up and operate a safer more efficient work zone.”

Shift happensPlanning the safest and most efficient work zone requires looking at elements like traffic projections. The lane closure planning tool is an ever-changing map that uses data to show work zone designers forecasted traffic levels on specific roadways. “When a work zone is in the planning stages,” said Musgrove, “We want to make data-driven decisions to reduce the impact on traffic. Using this tool, we can get a better idea of when traffic levels might be lighter so we can schedule the work to be done with fewer disruptions for travelers.”

Setting work zones to impact the fewest number of travelers will not only reduce disruptions, but it will also improve safety. Traffic Safety Engineer Willy Sorenson said, “Data shows the most common type of crash in a work zone is a rear-end crash due to traffic backups when a lane of traffic is closed. Using the data we have gathered for specific locations, our goal is to only allow lane closures during times when backups are minimized.”

IMG_2359Another element highlighted in the library is the Smart Work Zone Deployment initiative. This multi-state research project is investigating better ways of controlling traffic through work zones. The primary objective is to promote and support research and outreach activities that focus on innovative policies, processes, tools, and products to implement cutting-edge technology in all types of work zones.

In the weeks to come, watch this blog for stories about our best traffic control contractors who have been recognized with our first ever “Work Zone Safety Awards” and our new initiative to use global positioning satellites to pinpoint lane closures and share that information in real-time on the 511 traveler information system.

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