One’s safety

State DOT evaluation reveals work still needs to be done

Safety Article May 01, 2015
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To help states evaluate their work-zone practices, and to help assess work-zone practices nationally, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) developed the Work Zone Mobility and Safety Self Assessment (WZ SA) tool.
 
The WZ SA tool consists of a set of 46 questions designed to assist those with work-zone-management responsibilities in assessing their programs, policies and procedures against many of the good work-zone practices in use today. The policies, strategies, processes and tools identified in the WZ SA were gathered from the best practices currently in place in state departments of transportation (DOTs), metropolitan planning organizations and local municipalities. Many of the items can be found in the Work Zone Best Practices Guidebook (available at www.fhwa.dot.gov/workzones).
 
In 2011, the highest average ratings were for communications and education, followed by project construction and operation and project design. The lowest average rating was assigned to program evaluation. This is consistent with the results from previous years.
 
Each section experienced a slight increase in average rating from 2010 to 2011. Program evaluation had the highest average rating increase (4%). While the overall 3% rating increase is consistent with increases of the past few years, this year the increase is more evenly spread across all the sections.
 
The national average ratings for all six sections have consistently increased since the inception of the WZ SA, with the level of increase varying from section to section as shown in Figure 1. Since 2009, the average rating for every section has been at or above the implementation threshold of seven—meaning that on average across the country, agencies are implementing the practices in all six sections of the assessment. 
 
In 2011, the leadership and policy ratings show that, on average, agencies have advanced from the implementation stage (rating of 7 to 9) to assessing their performance (rating of 10-12). As a result, four of the six sections now have average ratings that show agencies are assessing their performance. As agencies have continued to enhance their work-zone policies and practices, the average ratings have reached a level where increases are more gradual.
 
Some important questions
The following are some of the highlighted questions and responses from this year’s work-zone self assessment:
 
Has the agency established strategic goals specifically to reduce congestion and delays in work zones? 
Almost three-fourths of agencies (73%) indicated that they have strategic goals to reduce work-zone congestion and delays, with some agencies noting that they are currently in the process of developing strategic goals. Several agencies cited specific performance measures as they relate to mobility goals. Such performance measures include maximum additional travel time above normal, level of service (LOS) relative to normal, and volume-to-capacity ratio during construction. One agency established a 10-minute maximum delay during construction, LOS no worse than LOS D and a volume-to-capacity ratio no greater than 0.80. One agency cited a delay goal of no more than two levels of service below the baseline (preconstruction) conditions. Several agencies noted that they do not have specific numeric goals due to a lack of performance measures or that their goals are inherent through process, but not written.
 
Has the agency established strategic goals specifically to reduce crashes in work zones? 
Thirty-nine agencies (75%) have strategic goals specifically to reduce crashes in work zones. Nine agencies mentioned having work zones as an emphasis area in their Strategic Highway Safety Plan, with two agencies noting that they have already met their goal in reducing work-zone crashes. Several agencies mentioned a strategic goal of reducing work-zone fatalities, with a small number of states mentioning specific numeric goals such as zero work-zone fatalities. Several other agencies noted that they are monitoring work-zone crashes, but no specific goals have been set. Two agencies responded that the lack of a specific goal was due to issues related to data. Some agencies noted doing post-construction analysis, such as use of crash statistics and other analysis techniques. One agency noted that they try to anticipate upcoming crash patterns using similar projects and proactively address the anticipated crashes. 
 
Has the agency established measures (e.g., vehicle throughput or queue length) to track work-zone congestion and delay? 
Thirty-three (63%) of the agencies are implementing measures to track work-zone congestion and delay. The average rating for this item increased 5% (from 7.9 to 8.3) between 2010 and 2011. Six agencies said they are using detection equipment to track and monitor work-zone congestion and delay. One agency responded that they are conducting a pilot study in which they are contracting with commercial carriers to collect actual travel times. One agency has established a capacity value for a single lane in a work zone as a first step toward establishing performance measures for congestion and delay. Two agencies have established specific delay measures that include a maximum of 30 minutes delay per project.
 
Has the agency established formal agreements, such as memoranda of understanding (MOU), with utility suppliers to promote the proactive coordination of long-range transportation plans with long-range utility plans, with the goal of reducing project delays and minimizing the number of work zones on the highway? 
 
Only 26 agencies (50%) have established an MOU with utility suppliers to promote the proactive coordination of long-range transportation plans with long-range utility plans. This continues to be one of the lowest-rated questions of the WZ SA and is tied with two other questions for the lowest number of agencies who have implemented the practice. However, this question had one of the larger increases in average rating (increasing 5% to 6.7, from 6.3 in 2010) due to increases in average ratings by 13 agencies. The wording of this question changed in 2011 to include a broader interpretation of agreements that qualify, rather than solely MOUs. This may help explain the large increase in average rating. Two agencies responded that they hold monthly meetings with utility suppliers to discuss utility issues and project schedules. Another agency includes utility construction coordination as a section within their TMP guidebook and provides training to regional office utility coordinators on use of their lane-closure decision support tool. While many agencies do not have a formal MOU, several agencies have agreements and cooperative understandings in place with utility suppliers.
 
Does the agency perform constructability reviews that include project strategies to reduce congestion and traveler delays during construction and maintenance for Type I and II projects? 
All 52 agencies responded that they use constructability reviews on projects. Eighteen agencies (35%) increased their ratings from 2010 and two agencies reached the implementation threshold. Many agencies noted that these constructability reviews are integrated into the project-development process, with one agency noting that these reviews are conducted and tracked at designated milestones. 
 
One agency noted that they host biannual TMP Constructability workshops where they share case studies of best practices with multidisciplinary stakeholders. 
 
Another agency noted that reviews take place between the design and construction phases for projects. Another agency said that constructability reviews are required on all projects and are performed in conjunction with the development of the project’s TMP.
 
When developing the traffic-control plan for a project, does the agency involve contractors on Type I and II projects? 
Contractors are involved with the development of traffic-control plans (TCPs) in 33 agencies (63%). This represents three additional agencies implementing this practice in 2011 compared with 2010. This question received the lowest rating in the project design section, but is tied for the second-largest percentage increase (4%) from 2010 for this section. The average rating for this question increased from 7.6 to 7.8 due to an increase in ratings from 10 agencies. Many agencies noted that contractors are allowed to submit proposed revisions to the TCP following the award of the contract to prevent any conflicts of interest. Some agencies noted that contractors did provide input on a project-by-project basis, specifically if the project was complex or unique. One agency noted that contractors provide input on value-engineering team reviews for projects exceeding $25 million, and another responded that contractors are permitted to submit a value-engineering change proposal during construction to reduce the cost of a project.
 
When bidding Type I, II and III projects, does the agency use performance-based criteria to eliminate contractors who consistently demonstrate their inability to complete a quality job within the contract time? 
Thirty-two agencies (62%) use performance-based selection to eliminate contractors that regularly have difficulty completing quality jobs on time. The average rating on this question increased 5% from 7.4 to 7.8. This increase was due to an increase in ratings by 12 agencies and is probably due at least in part to a change in the wording of the question to indicate it pertains to performance-based criteria, such as that used in prequalification, rather than performance-based selection. Many agencies noted the use of a prequalification process to reduce or eliminate the eligibility of contractors to bid on projects when contractors have demonstrated poor performance. One agency noted that they have established contractor evaluation criteria and are beginning to collect data, while another notes that they evaluate the contractor at the end of each contract, but these evaluations do not disqualify the contractors from the bidding process regardless of performance.
 
Does the agency collect data to track work-zone congestion and delay performance in accordance with agency-established measures? 
Half of the responding agencies collect data to track work-zone congestion and delay performance against agency measures. The average rating for this question remains below the implementation threshold; however it increased by 5%, indicating that more agencies are moving toward using data to track work-zone congestion and delay. Ratings for four agencies increased above the implementation threshold, while ratings for two agencies decreased below the implementation threshold. One of the agencies that lowered their rating noted that while they collect data, there are no established measures. The second agency did not provide a comment. Variation exists in agency practice, ranging from agencies that have not yet defined measures to agencies collecting data mainly through visual observation to field engineers reporting performance on agency data-collection forms or using travel-time runs to the use of technology to collect data. One agency purchased a data report software package that will be able to track total delay in hours for work zones using ITS devices. This agency will begin tracking delay to obtain a baseline for construction and then monitor the delay against the baseline for observations of trends. Some agencies noted they focus their data collection on a sample of projects, generally significant projects. One agency noted use of more qualitative measures such as public input and feedback as opposed to quantitative measures. One agency noted they have district offices conducting data-collection tasks to monitor delay, but it is not yet done on an agency-wide level.
 
Does the agency conduct customer surveys to evaluate work-zone traffic-management practices and policies on a statewide/area-wide basis? 
Twenty-six agencies (50%) are using customer surveys to evaluate work-zone performance. Ratings for two agencies increased above the implementation threshold from 2010 to 2011, and the average rating for this question increased 5%, indicating that more agencies are making use of surveys and similar mechanisms for public feedback. Customer surveys provide qualitative information for agencies to use in evaluating their work-zone operations. Agencies that mentioned doing surveys indicated they were often specific to a project or an outreach campaign, or were part of a larger state or agency survey effort. Several agencies noted use of electronic resources such as websites to gather public input on programs and projects. One agency noted it is receiving more input from the public due to the increased usage of social media. Another agency responded that informal “coffee-house” meetings are held for the public to provide feedback on work zones during construction.
 
Does the agency develop strategies to improve work-zone performance on the basis of work-zone performance data and customer surveys? 
Thirty-one agencies (60%) develop strategies to improve work-zone performance based on work-zone data and customer surveys. The average ratings for four agencies increased above the implementation threshold, while one agency rating decreased below the threshold. The agency whose rating decreased below the implementation threshold did not provide comments. Agencies cited using information from public and worker feedback mechanisms to make policy and practice improvements and target marketing campaigns. One agency mentioned development of several specific strategies, including websites for contractor-safety information, measures to define work-zone limits to classify how queues are studied and establish best practices on queue analysis, and on-site efforts such as portable speed monitoring for data collection. One agency responded that they have multiple work-zone teams that help assess and develop strategies for work-zone performance improvement. Another agency noted that more attention has been given to user delay to confirm that project delays were not exceeded relative to the TMP. ST

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