Improving Work Zone Safety

July 07, 2020

Portrait of Henry Brown

Mizzou research engineer Henry Brown

A sure sign that summer has arrived in Missouri is when the heat and humidity return. Another indication of summer is when the “Road Construction Ahead” signs pop up along the state’s highways, roads and streets.

These signs usually indicate delays in getting to your destination.

Time can be lost due to traffic congestion, work zone accidents or other factors. One portion of the delays that might be overlooked, though, is the time needed to set up, maintain and disassemble the work zone area beyond just the actual construction.

This time period is what Henry Brown, a research engineer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is currently investigating. Specifically, he’s trying to determine best practices for overall work zone maintenance. Brown, with a grant from the Transportation Research Board at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, is collecting data from states on work zone planning and development to try to reduce delays and improve safety.

Work Zone Data Collection

“It’s important to study highway and work zone safety because everyone want to save lives. Work zone safety has particular challenges due to being temporary in nature, possible narrower lanes, reduced lanes and having construction workers exposed to traffic,” Brown said. “This research is to benefit motorists and highway workers.”

Brown is collecting data about work zones from several state departments of transportation. This data includes the placement and removal of temporary pavement markings, design considerations, and reviewing existing literature and policies.

“This information will include how these state DOTs determine what type of markings to use, whether it’s temporary paint or tape, what kind of policies and how do they ensure the quality of the markings,” Brown said.

Once the information is collected, Brown’s team will conduct a survey of all state departments of transportation.  The team will then conduct follow-up phone interviews with selected departments to gather specific information about their practices. Finally, the data will be published for review and use.

Brown’s other ongoing research is being funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Missouri Department of Transportation, and the Smart Work Zone Deployment Initiative. His team also currently works with the city of Grandview, Missouri.

“We do asset management for Grandview. Basically grading their pavement and developing pavement plans for what type of pavement projects they should do. It’s an ongoing project,” Brown said.

As summer begins and construction zones appear, Brown warns drivers to be careful and observant.

“Work zones can come up quick,” he said. “A big issue is rear-end crashes because one person may be on their phone and not paying attention, and traffic is stopped. Be aware and be alert.”