Planning and communication has helped Lincoln's Public Works and Utilities Department manage traffic around reconstruction of “O” Street, or US-34, which runs through the middle of town.

Local road construction is a fact of life. Asphalt and concrete deteriorate, business districts expand, and the population continues to increase; streets are going to need an overhaul every once in a while. Traffic engineers like Randy Hoskins, P.E., know that a carefully crafted and thoughtfully executed road construction plan can make the difference between smooth sailing and stormy seas.

Hoskins, city traffic engineer for Lincoln, Neb., has two decades of experience in the field, which has come in handy with the city's current project—revamping “O” Street, or US-34, the main east/west street running through the middle of town. The project will widen the street to six lanes, add turn lanes, and include reconstruction of a water main and other utilities.

“We debated whether to carry the construction of the project over two years and allow two-way traffic on half the existing road, versus closing the road and completing the work in one construction season,” said Hoskins. “In working with business owners, we found they would prefer one year of ‘pain' to two years of ‘aches.'” Alleviating the pains included providing means of access to all affected businesses, creating signage to direct motorists to the stores, and launching a “media blitz” to notify the motoring public.

So far, the efforts of the city's Public Works and Utilities Department have worked, and the project is moving smoothly. To help ensure your road construction traffic efforts meet with similar success, Hoskins offered the following tips:

  • Inform your constituents early and often about your construction plans. “Get as many on board with it as possible, and get as much information as possible from them,” he said.
  • Offer road construction “survival kits.” The city presents owners of affected businesses with a packet offering information on measures they can take to survive—even thrive—during construction, based on the experiences of others. It also gives information on what the city will allow in the way of offsite signage along detour routes.
  • Rely on dynamic message signs. The changing message boards are invaluable in work zones, giving motorists up-to-date information on conditions. Hoskins' team typically puts them up a week before work starts and leaves them in place for a week afterward. The city also uses the signs anytime a detour route or construction condition changes significantly.
  • Plan your detour routes ahead of time, and be ready to adjust them. “We aren't afraid to make major signal timing or phasing changes prior to a construction project along a detour route to anticipate the changed conditions,” said Hoskins. However, he cautions, engineers still need to carefully monitor and adjust timing and phasing throughout the duration of the project, based on where traffic actually goes.
  • Expect the unexpected. Hoskins advises that engineers should not assume traffic will follow a marked detour, and they should be willing to work with neighborhoods experiencing increased traffic caused by shortcut-loving drivers who are oblivious to the safety and quality of life of nearby residents.
  • Following such wise advice should keep your construction pains and aches to a minimum.