Building, renovating, and expanding infrastructure and public works projects present unique challenges to civil engineers and traffic control planners. From state highway expansions to new urban development to repairs to aging airports, effective traffic control planning is critical for safety, efficiency, and overall project success. Effective planning provides road users, workers, and pedestrians the information they need to safely navigate through the construction area and helps the project stay on schedule and budget.
Planning for traffic control in civil engineering construction projects is a complex process having many variables. Any plan must address five main elements: the traffic flows, visibility and signage, regulations, logistics, and budget. In this article we’ll touch on the key elements of the plan, the challenges these projects face, and the strategies that help bring about a safe completion.
Whether a standard or unique design, all traffic control plans must be developed in compliance with the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), ensuring that operations are safe, efficient, and properly regulated. This starts by assessing existing conditions. Construction areas are surveyed, traffic origin and destination patterns are identified, an assessment of existing traffic control devices is conducted, and the appropriate type and size of traffic control devices are determined.
Traffic flow planning components include the design of the construction area layout, the provision of clear access for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, and the implementation of speed limits. Planners also need to be aware of any potential hazards such as construction vehicles entering the site or pedestrians crossing roadways with limited visibility. Plans must address any disruptions to the normal flow of vehicular and foot traffic, such as detours and lane and sidewalk closures, and ensure that all access points are clearly marked, and drivers are notified of any temporary restrictions.
Sharing the work area plan with the general public is another critical step. When there is a detour route in use, it is important to provide a call ahead to businesses and residents along the route in order to minimize any disruption. This can involve mailing detour notices to area residents and posting signs along the route. Alternative routes should be clearly provided in the notice.
Visibility and signage
Once the plan has been developed, it is important to implement it using proper signage, appropriate barricades, and other traffic control devices. Visibility issues must be carefully considered. This includes providing adequate warning signs at the entrance and exit of the construction zone, and strategically placed lighting to ensure visibility at night. Protective barriers can also be put up to prevent the pedestrian footpaths from becoming blocked or narrow.
Signs must be used to clearly mark construction area boundaries and direct traffic. Signs should also be placed at key points in the project including temporary traffic lights and provisional parking areas.
In recent years, the construction sector has grown increasingly reliant on automated technology to improve efficiency and safety. Automated Flagger Assistance Devices (AFADs) are becoming a must-have for protecting workers and the public in work zones. These devices can patrol and signal an area either by light or sound and are usually powered by solar energy. AFADs come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can incorporate other safety mechanisms beyond alarm systems such as security cameras.
When the project has been completed, it is also essential to properly remove the traffic control signage and devices. This should be done immediately, as leaving these items in place may cause confusion and even hazards.
It is essential that both federal and state requirements regarding traffic control are strictly adhered to in order to minimize the risk of accidents and injury. Current federal regulations pertaining to traffic control in work zones are laid out in the MUTCD. These provide a baseline for uniform temporary traffic control devices and layout guidance to be employed in work zones by the various states, ensuring consistency of safety measures nationwide. Outlined in the MUTCD are the various types of signs, signal, and pavement marking devices necessary to ensure the roadways are utilized safely.
In addition to following the MUTCD, each state is responsible for establishing their own standards for the design and placement of these temporary traffic control devices, and for providing information about work zone rules and regulations for their specific roadway systems. The document is updated every few years to keep up with changes in technology and advances in traffic engineering. As a result, it is always important to reference the latest version of the MUTCD for a particular state before work begins.
Notable is that work zones involving hazardous materials will have much different safety requirements than a typical scenario. This includes ensuring that all workers are made aware of the possible kinds of hazardous materials present in the work zone as well as establishing clear guidelines for safely vacating and confining the area in the event of an emergency.
Civil engineering projects frequently involve multiple steps that need to be completed over years. This means that the traffic control plan needs to be designed with enough flexibility to accommodate the different stages of the project. It is important to coordinate with local governments, such as police departments and transportation authorities, in order to properly manage the traffic flow and minimize disruption to other parts of the city.
Furthermore, the construction team and municipality must develop a timeline and plan of action so that all parties understand the expectations and anticipate potential traffic disruptions. This detailed plan will outline the timeline, responsibilities, tasks and desired project outcomes and include information about the type of construction, key dates, expected changes to traffic patterns and projected access points.
Once the plan has been agreed to, a meeting should be conducted with the local police department to discuss traffic flows and ways to ensure public safety for the duration of construction. State and local transportation authorities and transit agencies should also be included in this process to ensure that all parties are aware of the possible disruption.
Furthermore, the presence of flagging operations or a traffic control supervisor is a necessity in many cases. Trained and certified flaggers or protectors have the ultimate responsibility of actually controlling the movement of people and vehicles in the area and ensuring that traffic control devices are properly deployed and maintained. Often these staffing decisions are managed by a professional traffic control services provider and at other times, come down to the discretion of the state or municipal entity supervising the work zone.
When budgeting for a traffic control plan, one of the best ways to maintain costs is to keep the plan as simple as possible to implement. For example, using a single-lane traffic pattern over a two-lane pattern will generally require fewer materials and fewer traffic signs and signals. Additionally, traffic control plans that are engineered to mimic existing road conditions could provide savings in terms of both planning and material costs.
Another way to control costs is to use existing equipment whenever possible. This may include purchasing components from a supplier who specializes in traffic engineering, or it may involve salvaging traffic signs, signals and other equipment from previous projects. Regardless of the approach, this cost-saving measure is often preferable to purchasing all new equipment, as it could potentially cut costs by up to 50 percent.
Furthermore, it is important to factor in the cost of oversight when budgeting for a traffic control plan. As the civil project progresses, the plan must be regularly monitored and updated to ensure that it is still achieving its desired objectives. This often involves the supervision of professional engineers and other specialists, whose services must be factored into the project’s budget. Moreover, it may be necessary to invest in additional protective equipment, such as barricades or lights, in order to promote a safe working environment. Planners must also account for lost time due to delays or additional fuel costs for support vehicles should timelines change.
Lean on the experts
Traffic control planning requires a thorough understanding of safety concerns, route selection and visibility, financial considerations, and logistical complexities. It is crucial to address all of these issues in order to ensure that civil engineering projects can be completed with minimal disruption to the public and maximum protection for workers.
Planning for every eventuality is the best way to ensure a successful project completion. A comprehensive traffic control plan helps to reduce costs, minimize construction delays and maximize the safety of workers, drivers, and pedestrians. Outsourcing the traffic control component of a project can help to reduce costs. Professional traffic control services providers have the necessary resources and equipment to manage a project from start to finish. This means that companies don’t have to.
Be sure to seek out service providers having extensive civil engineering project experience that can help shape more informed, complete strategies to protect people and progress.
About AWP Safety:
Area Wide Protective (AWP) Safety has a mission to provide the safest environment possible for every person building the future of utility, broadband, transportation, and civil infrastructure. With services tailored to each project’s needs, AWP Safety leads the way in planning and implementing optimized traffic control strategies and technologies.
The company has worked on some of the nation’s busiest and most complex civil engineering projects, including the widening of I-5 in Seattle, the I-35 bridge reconstruction project near Austin, and the overhaul of the Long Beach freeway. Many of these projects require the use of sophisticated traffic control devices, such as signals, cameras, gates, warning lights, crosswalks and road signs, in combination with traditional traffic control methods administered by certified protectors.