Advances in electronic tools help identify, mitigate risks
Electronic messaging, videos, GPS, mobile, and wireless devices are part of our daily lives. In the last twenty years, technology has drastically changed the way we do business. Technological solutions are even being used to make work zones safer and more efficient.
Here are just a few examples of what’s happening around the globe: Lane closure systems use remote-controlled mechanisms to deploy signs and lighted gates to close lanes within a work zone, minimizing worker exposure to traffic. Automated speed enforcement uses photo radar or onboard cameras to enhance speed zone compliance, reducing severe crashes. Smartphone applications show real-time messages, helping motorists plan ahead for work zones before getting behind the wheel. Not surprisingly, you can find some of these cutting edge tools right here in Oregon.
Know Before You Go
Our award-winning TripCheck travel information system has provided real-time information about construction projects for more than a decade. Users can get information via the web, by phone or even via Twitter.
ODOT’s Intelligent Transportation Systems team continually adds enhancements to the system, such as TripCheck TV. Trucking companies, hotels, and office complexes are using TripCheck TV to display customized camera views and traffic information on television monitors; this helps employees and visitors make travel decisions before they head out on the road, or as the slogan says, “Know before you go.”
Oregon Work Zones Getting “Smarter”
ODOT’s Southwest Region is using new technology on the Fern Valley interchange project on Interstate 5 at Phoenix (exit 24). The speed limit is reduced to 50 miles per hour through the work zone. Despite enforcement, many drivers have not heeded the work zone speed limit. According to Oregon State Police, more than 100 tickets and many warnings have been issued.
To help remind motorists of the need to slow down, additional static signing is in place closer to the interchange area, as well as large lighted LED display panels and portable radar trailers telling drivers of their speed on a digital readout.
“Reducing speeds through the work zone is critical for driver and worker safety,” said Area Manager Art Anderson. “And it’s especially important since we have a temporary southbound off-ramp. It has slower speed requirements and limited sight distance.” Temporary transverse rumble strips are an added warning for drivers exiting the interstate.
Construction cameras at the Phoenix off-ramps are also on the TripCheck network. They’ve proven effective for the public and dispatch to keep an eye on traffic operations, especially to monitor traffic queues during recent work when I-5 was narrowed to a single lane in each direction for nearly a month.
Cameras are also in use on the seven-mile long I-5: Anlauf to Martin Creek project in northern Douglas County. And new Bluetooth technology allows dispatch and the public to see the delay length in minutes through the work zone, using a fairly simple concept.
“We have two solar-powered Bluetooth readers at either end of the project that measure the travel time. That information is connected through a cellular router to new travel time software that provides the information to TripCheck,” said ITS Manager Galen McGill.
The delay in real-time is seen by hovering a curser over the project’s construction icon or by clicking on the icon. It’s not yet available on TripCheck for mobile devices or 511.
Bluetooth is also being used to measure travel times on Oregon 99W in the Tigard area, but this is the first time for an ODOT construction project. One reason it is so valuable for construction is because it gives a history of delays during the life of the project.
“This is something we haven’t had before,” said McGill.
More Technology Is On Its Way
In the future, we’ll see many more technological tools deployed in Oregon work zones, such as queue detection. Queue detection has been used a few times on ODOT projects. Here’s how it works: Sensors are paired with portable changeable message signs to warn drivers and alert construction crews. Queue detection is especially effective when queue lengths are unpredictable and thus unexpected by drivers. The Illinois Department of Transportation had a 14 percent decrease in rear-end crashes when they deployed queue detection in a work zone.
As with any other type of tool, the choice to use technology for improving work zone safety depends on a variety of factors – anticipated results, project duration, geography, performance goals and availability of equipment. Successful implementation means adopting the tools into project development and design culture and integrating the tools into an overall traffic management plan for the project.
This is the fourth in our series of articles on taking a fresh look at work zone safety.