Protecting worker safety during moving operations
Editor’s note: This post is part of a series related to our 5-year priority goal of “Supporting a Culture of Innovation” at the Iowa Department of Transportation. We are working to find innovative ways to improve processes, tools, & relationships to create positive experiences for our customers.
When you think of a work zone, an image of pavement work or bridge construction behind a line of orange cones with workers and construction equipment might come to mind. These stationary work zones are often in place for a period of time and are easily found on the 511 system (www.511ia.org and the Iowa 511 app). But many work zones like those for simple maintenance or line painting move slowly down the road. This makes the work zones difficult for you to track on 511 and the workers in those work zones are more vulnerable to being hit by drivers who may not expect to see them on the road.
“Currently when we have a moving operation, whether that’s a painting operation or maybe a crew adding rock to a shoulder, the crew calls our Traffic Management Center to have them post the work to the 511 system. Right now, the entire road segment where work is occurring would show as a work zone, even though the actual work is being done as the crews move down the road. A driver will only see the crew on a very short portion of the whole route.” explained Ben Hucker from the Iowa DOT’s Maintenance Bureau. “For example, our District 6 paint crew may be painting lines on U.S. 151 between Marion and Dubuque. Drivers don’t know where they may encounter the crew within that 60-mile corridor. The general area information on 511 isn’t terribly helpful. We needed to find a way to get more targeted information out there so you’ll know what to expect and can be aware that our crews are on the road.”
To make the information timelier and more useful, a new pilot program is adding automatic tracking to equipment operated around the state, including all six of our district paint crews as well as maintenance garages in four metro areas, Des Moines, Iowa City, Waterloo, and Council Bluffs. Smart arrow board technology has been installed on 10 Iowa DOT vehicles equipped with automated audible attenuators. Hucker said, “These are the vehicles that are at the end of the line of equipment during moving operations like painting. With the new tracking system, the exact location of the moving maintenance operation can be automatically fed back to the Traffic Management Center to pinpoint on the 511 system where the moving work zone is located at any given time. There is no worker input needed as the information begins to transmit a signal as soon as the system is turned on.”
In addition to the automated locations being displayed on the 511 system, third-party systems like Waze that provide traffic information have started tracking moving maintenance operations on their apps and issuing warnings to users approaching the mobile work zone.
Hucker said, “Having multiple ways to get this location information out to drivers is a great safety improvement for both the drivers and our workers. In addition to our smart arrow boards, our paint trucks have a data logger that automatically collects and transmits location information to the cloud. That location data can then be used by Waze to display the paint crew’s location on the app.”
These two systems that run in the background of our moving operations are just one way we are living out the Iowa DOT’s core values of “Safety First” and “People Matter” and our five-year goal to “Support a Culture of Innovation.”