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Increasing work-zone safety

Increasing work-zone safety

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    Longitudinal channelizing barricades increase pedestrian and vehicle safety around construction zones. Photos: Water Barrier Manufacturers Association

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    In addition to making construction areas safer, water-filled barricades can be more affordable and easier to use than concrete alternatives.

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    In September, the Federal Highway Administration presented a demonstration of longitudinal channelizing barricades, inviting disabled individuals to test them in simulated work zones.

Water-filled longitudinal channelizing barricades provide clear visual guidance to vehicles and pedestrians approaching and traversing sudden, unusual, or unexpected traffic patterns around temporary work zones. In many instances, these barriers avoid the need to place concrete jersey barriers, which can be dangerous—even deadly—to motorists.

The longitudinal barricades should be used in work zones where some risk to workers and motorists is acknowledged but considered acceptable. They can be used in lieu of cones or drums and are instrumental in filling the gap between temporary concrete barriers and drums or barricades.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has officially identified longitudinal channelizing barricades as having the ability to alleviate the problem of gaps with traditional channelizing devices. This guidance has been accepted by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and is now published in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) 2003 Edition, 6F.66. The target compliance date set by the FHWA for this change was Jan. 17. The FHWA previously established National Cooperative Highway Research Program crash test guidelines (NCHRP-350) for these devices.

The new guidance from the FHWA in the MUTCD addresses the need for interlocking devices that can clearly delineate or channelize the flow of pedestrian traffic around work zones. The new section, 6F.66, encourages the use of these barricades in certain work zones as a more effective and safe product, preferable to cones, drums, or A-frame barricades, all of which can leave gaps that can allow pedestrians or vehicles to stray from the designated path. Interlocking devices will allow people with visual impairments to safely negotiate a work zone. Plastic water ballast roadway traffic control devices have been developed over the past 15 years and offer a greater degree of channelization with a higher margin of safety than the alternatives.

Improving Safety

Roadway safety is a major public health issue. Each year, approximately 40,000 people are killed on U.S. roadways, and almost 5 million others are injured in motor vehicle crashes. The cost of these deaths, injuries, and property damage is estimated to be $250 billion annually.

Some of these collisions result from aggressive drivers performing dangerous maneuvers to avoid traffic backups, including using medians to cross highways, driving the wrong way on entrance ramps, driving between cones on lane closures to pass traffic lines, and leaving the roadway to access adjacent roadways In addition, at night or in inclement weather, even safe drivers can have difficulty maneuvering through drums and barricades that do not clearly delineate the way and that can be knocked down by wind or snowplows.

These drivers can end up in the work zone or, even worse, in the wrong lane facing oncoming traffic.

Several plastic longitudinal channelizing barricades have been tested and approved for use on the national highway system. These longitudinal channelizers are designed with several features that provide great advantages and benefits over contemporary traffic control devices, including ease of handling, ease of installation, low installation costs, and fast setup.

In addition, the lightweight plastic barriers will not damage expensive asphalt or concrete surfaces, and the interconnecting plastic channelizing units do not require an expensive end treatment (such as a crash cushion). The use of plastic barricades can be a beneficial safety addition to temporary work zones to decrease fatalities associated with concrete barriers that protect workers but not motorists.

Why Use A Barrier?

The four primary functions of barriers are to keep traffic from entering work areas, such as excavations or material storage sites; to provide rigid or positive separation between workers or pedestrians and traffic; to positively separate two-way traffic; and to provide rigid or positive separation from construction, such as false work for bridges and other exposed objects. In these cases, barriers are less dangerous to the motoring public than a vehicle that enters a work area or excavation, enters a pedestrian walkway, crosses into oncoming traffic, or hits an exposed object in a work zone.

When plastic channelizing units are installed in a roadway work zone, workers tend to be more productive because they are not continually watching over their shoulder for drums or barricades that have been clipped by moving vehicles and thrown into the work zone. Compared to drums and flashers, plastic channelizing units are highly visible around work zones. They clearly channel pedestrians and vehicles around hazardous areas by increasing the decision site distance, reducing exposure to public liability claims and worker injury. Pedestrians cannot easily step over or move the units to gain access to a dangerous work zone, a liability advantage over conventional devices. In addition, a full range of Occupational Safety & Health Administration safety colors are available to provide the maximum level of hazard identification. Optional warning lights, flag holders, and fencing also are available for even greater hazard warning.

When barriers are placed immediately adjacent to traffic, they should be equipped with appropriate channelizing devices, delineation, or other traffic-control devices. Water-ballast longitudinal channelizers are excellent for this application. In addition, for lane closures, the merging taper can use water ballast channelizing barricades, with the barrier placed beyond the transition area. Also a longitudinal buffer space can be established between the beginning of the work zone (where a lane begins to be narrowed with cones) and the downstream end of the merging taper.

Plastic channelizing units have a few additional benefits. They are 100% recyclable, curtailing environmental and disposal issues. This is particularly beneficial to government agencies because of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recently published Recovered Materials Advisory Notice, a new mandate designating items that must be manufactured from recyclable or recycled material. Also, because of their weight and bulk, water-ballast plastic channelizing units are not easy targets for thieves as are barricades and drums. And finally, the polyethylene material forms a difficult surface for graffiti artists to deface because it does not bond well with paint.

Yodock is president of Yodock Wall Co., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Christensen is managing member of Off the Wall Products, Salt Lake City.

For additional information or a sample copy of MUTCD Section 6F.66, visit www.multi-barrier.com or www.waterbarrier.com.