Road Management & Engineering Journal
Road Management & Engineering Journal
Copyright © 1999 by TranSafety, Inc.
February, 2000
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Work Zone Improvements by States -- TMA's, Bid Items, and 24-Hour Surveillance by Roy W. Anderson, P.E.
Originally published in the April 1989 TranSafety Reporter

(This article on work zone safety is reproduced from the April 1989 (Volume VII, No. 4) issue of the TranSafety Reporter, published and edited by Roy W. Anderson, P.E. To find legal summaries of cases related to highway work zones, please check on-line editions of "Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal" at this web site.)

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has published The 1988 Annual Report on Highway Safety Improvement Programs, a report to the United States Congress. The report reviews accident statistics and cites certain state's Federal Highway Safety funded programs which the FHWA sees as significant contributions to safety. Some of those citations are worth highlighting. The comments about the programs that follow the citations from the FHWA report represent my views and are not taken from the report.

Truck Mounted Attenuators

Virginia has established the following requirements in its safety program:

To provide maximum protection for workers and motorists during pavement marking and other operations that require closing a lane on high speed roads, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is equipping selected maintenance vehicles with truck mounted attenuators (TMA's).

After July 1, 1988 the devices were required on all limited access highways. For those with four or more lanes and speeds exceeding 45 mph, the VDOT established the following criteria for the use of the TMA's:

The requirements for TMA's first appeared in the VDOT 1987 Virginia Work Area Protection Manual which is a supplement to the Virginia Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways, thus making its use mandatory. The 1987 Manual and its 1988 revision establish a number of conditions where TMA's are to be used. Unfortunately, the Manual does not establish any criteria for the type or kind of TMA's to be used. Guidelines establishing this criteria for TMA's need to be included.

The use of TMA's by highway agencies and their contractors is a very important step forward for highway safety. Likewise, it is a step forward in reducing the risk of lawsuits and awards. A TMA manufacturer related to me that after one Midwestern state paid a large award for an injury resulting from a collision with one of that state's maintenance trucks, the state placed an order for 50 TMA's.

The FHWA should follow Virginia's lead in requiring TMA's. Part VI of the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is now being revised. This section of the current working draft of the MUTCD contains provisions for the use of TMA's. These provisions should contain a requirement for TMA's and give necessary guidance on when and where they should be used. It should also contain performance specifications for the design of the TMA's.

Contract Bid Items

The FHWA report also notes that Iowa now includes contract bid items for construction contracts to provide for items such as "pilot cars, flaggers, and cleaning of traffic control signs." These are important steps. There are agencies that continue to use lump-sum bids (one total amount of money for all traffic controls) or bid items that are no more than lump sum. The FHWA has encouraged the use of bid items on federal- aid contracts but has never mandated the use. It has long been recognized by safety engineers that the use of lump-sum bids is detrimental to work zone safety. Each dollar the contractor does not spend on traffic control is a dollar in the contractor's pocket. It becomes difficult for the agency personnel administering the contract to require needed traffic control from a contractor that wishes to argue the point, for instance, that the traffic control is not needed or is not specifically outlined in the lump- sum contract.

The detailed bid item approach provides the contractor with an incentive to do more about traffic control because it will increase his income. In addition, there is an incentive for the agency personnel to observe what the contractor is implementing to assure that the agency is receiving and thus paying for what is necessary. But best of all, it fairly compensates the contractor as well as allows the contract administrators the ease of ordering additional traffic control devices or services without the hassle of arguing with the contractor about what was bid in the lump sum. The traveling public will certainly be the overall winner.

24-Hour Surveillance

Iowa also reports that they are using 24-hour surveillance and emergency services as contract requirements on critical Interstate projects. The highway industry has been extremely slow to accept the need for an "operational" concept for our roads and streets. Many work zones have critical elements; that is, if a failure occurs a serious accident can occur. If the oil and chemical industries operated their oil refineries and chemical plants the way the street and highway system is operated, they would have long ago been blown off this earth along with the surrounding communities.

Many work zones have only vague contract requirements concerning what type of and how often surveillance is needed. Statistics show that work zone dangers are greatest at night. It is also commonly known that injuries and deaths occur on the weekends in the early morning hours when the bars close. Therefore, nighttime and weekends should be when work zone surveillance is most vigilant. Instead, there appears to be little nighttime surveillance and construction projects are often abandoned on Friday afternoon and the contractor's personnel do not reappear until Monday morning. So when the traffic control is knocked down or vandalized, as can often occur in urbanized areas, there will probably be no remedy until Monday morning.

The safe operation of work zones during all hours of the day and week is vital. It is time that the agencies and contractors give high priority to establishing criteria and requirements for surveillance operations, commensurate with the potential risk to the public and worker if there is a failure.

Copyright © 1999 by TranSafety, Inc.

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