Mississippi contractor lifts barriers in work zones amid $40 million widening project

Todd Razor / March 02, 2017
Vacuworx HL Series lifting system
Vacuworx HL Series lifting system

The work of building and maintaining America’s roads and bridges relies heavily on the effective management of traffic, which includes limiting proximities among motorists, workers and equipment in construction zones.

A Federal Highway Administration (FHA) analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that collisions among vehicles and mobile equipment is the second-most-common cause of worker fatalities, contributing to an average 14% of worker fatalities in construction zones between 2005 and 2010.  

In 2014, 23% of fatal work zone crashes occurred on urban interstates, whereas 20% of such occurrences were reported on urban arterial roads.

Concrete road barriers, used to reduce the disruption of traffic and contain errant vehicles while shielding objects near the roadway, provide a means of positive protection for workers operating in a sea of cars, trucks and commercial passenger vehicles.

Contractors in the middle of road, bridge and highway rehabilitation projects find themselves responsible for maintaining proper flows with regard to safety measures aimed at curtailing worker exposure to traffic­­. This is especially important as it relates to situations in which deflection space tends to be limited, when alongside heavy equipment and where the precise placement of materials in confined quarters is required.

In recent years, the FHA has concluded that “run-overs” or “back-overs,” often by dump trucks, were responsible for a whopping 48% of worker fatalities that occurred at road construction sites. Workers being caught between or struck by construction equipment and objects was blamed for 14% of work zone fatalities.

360 degrees of reflection

Driven by concerns over worker safety and the avoidance of costly or fatal collisions with motorists, the business end of road construction requires contractors with an emphasis on the timely and cost-effective completion of projects to be industrious in their deployment of solution-oriented resources in the field.

Mallette Bros. Construction stumbled on the Vacuworx HL Series lifting system while conducting online research in reference to material-handling procedures for concrete road barriers.

The Gautier-based asphalt contractor, anticipating the February 2016 award of a $40-million road-widening project commissioned by the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT), had been searching for ways to accelerate the barrier-lifting process.

HL Series hydraulic lifters, with lift capacities up to 23,300 lb, are designed to move and install concrete road barriers of up to 30 ft long. The device, controlled from the cab of the host machine, allows for 360 degrees of rotation of materials being handled.

Mallette Bros. purchased two HL B1 units, each with a 6,000-lb lift capacity, and coupled the equipment with Caterpillar 326F hydraulic excavators as it was gearing up for the 630-day project scheduled for completion in January 2018.

On previous projects and prior to its adoption of Vacuworx, Mallette Bros. had been using a manual scissor-type lifting apparatus that required a total of six workers to handle tasks associated with manipulating concrete road barrier systems, including the traffic and maintenance personnel necessary to perform time-consuming lane closures.

Mallette Bros. had originally assumed that in order to stay on track by relocating two miles, or approximately 10,000 linear ft, of barrier wall once every two to three weeks, it would require a total of 8.5 days to handle just this portion of the job. That estimate, within the first seven months of the project getting underway, was revised down to a total of 3.5 days.

Carlos Morales, a Mallette Bros. project manager, reflected on the company’s experience with the Vacuworx HL B1 lifters as crews­­ continued work along the eastbound and westbound lanes of I-10 in Jackson County.

“It was discovered by accident,” Morales said. “We were just trying to figure out a way to make improvements on a speed basis. We went from the ability of six people to move 75 barriers a day all the way down to two or three people handling 250 barriers a day. We came across this system and it snowballed from there.

“Liquidated damages as a result of not finishing a project such as this on time can add up to $25,000 a day. By eliminating five days, that’s $125,000 in potential savings. There is no comparison from either a safety and productivity standpoint. We have more than exceeded the timeframe allotted ourselves, all in a safe manner.”

Making inroads

Improvements in the areas of freight mobility, incident management, hurricane evacuation and reductions in traffic congestion have been cited in relation to projects along the I-10 national freight corridor. A key east-west transportation corridor, it runs approximately 2,600 miles through eight states from Jacksonville, Fla., to Los Angeles.

Of the approximately 700 miles of I-10 that traverses through urban areas, the FHA estimated that more than 53% of those segments are considered to be under heavy congestion. The administration suggested that by 2035, without further improvement, 96% of urban segments could be under heavy congestion, with the potential for congestion in non-urban areas to increase to 45% from the current 4%.

A national study of the I-10 freight corridor suggested that increasing capacity along high-volume strips is the best method of reducing highway congestion, particularly when used in tandem with technologies related to intelligent traffic systems and alternative mass traffic-flow techniques.

MDOT also committed to the build-out of an intelligent traffic system in Jackson County that focuses on modernizing the experience of motorists via the application of contemporary traffic monitoring, speed detection, accident reporting and information-sharing techniques.

It was announced in April 2014 that crews had begun installing fiber-optic cable along I-10 for that $10 million project, with an expectation by engineers that it would take 18 months to complete.

Between 1.5% and 3% of all workplace fatalities annually are attributed, typically, to occurrences at road construction sites. According to the FHA, crashes in work zones resulted in 669 fatalities in 2014, which is 2% of all roadway fatalities nationally.

Morales noted that there were two exits and one interchange located within the limits of Mallette Bros.’ road project, which includes the creation of a third travel lane and a shoulder – as well as widening of six bridges – between Ocean Springs and Vancleave.

“We are working within 3 to 4 ft of the travelling public, driving 80 miles an hour,” he said. “We don’t even do lane closures when using this system. That’s how confident we are in the project.”

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