Work Zone Mobility and Safety Program

Guide to Project Coordination for Minimizing Work Zone Mobility Impacts


Under the Every Day Counts (EDC) program, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is working with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) to speed up the delivery of road projects and address challenges caused by limited budgets. EDC is a state-based model to identify and quickly deploy innovations that can shorten the project delivery process, enhance roadway safety, reduce congestion, and improve environmental sustainability. (1) One of the strategic innovations being explored in the third round of EDC (EDC-3) is “Smarter Work Zones,” which includes techniques for Project Coordination (PC). PC strategies can be applied to a single project, or more commonly, among multiple projects within a corridor, network, or region, and possibly across agency jurisdictions, to minimize work zone impacts and produce time and cost savings. Beyond EDC-3, promotion of PC as an operational strategy is also an ongoing focal point for FHWA’s Work Zone Management Team.


Almost everyone has experienced a specific instance (or more) where it was clear that multiple projects or project tasks occurred on a road or within a region in an uncoordinated manner which caused significant delays and frustration to the traveling public. In many cases, it appears clear to everyone what should have been done from a Project Coordination (PC) standpoint to reduce the impacts that were experienced. However, trying to actually describe comprehensively how PC can be accomplished, and the benefits of efforts to coordinate, is more difficult. Likewise, identifying and addressing the various challenges that can hamper PC efforts, and how those challenges can be overcome, can also be difficult.

PC involves various strategies and actions, with the intent to improve a transportation agency’s ability to better manage and interact with multiple construction projects along a corridor or within a region toward the objective of improved safety and mobility:

  • Improved safety through a reduction in crashes and reduced crash severity.
  • Enhanced mobility in the form of travel time reliability and reduced delay.

The measure of effectiveness for PC efforts is determined through a comparison with the estimated impacts that would have occurred if the projects had not been coordinated in some fashion. PC can occur along a corridor, across a network of local streets, or within a broad region. It may be an internal function for managing multiple projects within an agency, or it may involve collaboration across agency jurisdictions to mutually achieve time and cost savings. (2) Among these various “dimensions” of PC there is no single best approach. Rather, the state-of-the-practice has seen the evolution of a variety of strategies and tools to facilitate coordination given the specific circumstances faced by agencies, with subsequent efforts building on the successes and challenges of those past.

The desire to better coordinate projects also goes beyond simply limiting the public’s exposure to highway work zones. The same tools and business processes that enable proactive PC also facilitate information sharing and improved agency functions for project management. Even where active inter-agency coordination of project schedules is not a specific objective, “passive” PC can occur when agencies implement tools for tracking project schedules and locations, and open these databases up to other agencies (such as utility companies) with need to access public rights-of-way. While such a mechanism may not technically meet the definition of PC as described in this report, such early steps toward integrating project information between agencies nevertheless serves a similar function in minimizing the collective impact of road work upon road users. While sharing of schedules and plans amongst stakeholders can indeed be beneficial, additional opportunities exist to more actively coordinate projects in a way that will yield consistent and measureable reductions in impacts relative to what would have occurred if those coordination efforts had not occurred. Through the efforts of the FHWA Work Zone Management Team and the EDC-3 Smarter Work Zone initiative, it is hoped that PC efforts will expand and improve nationally.

It should be noted that a clear demarcation of what constitutes PC within the context of work zone safety and mobility impact mitigation does not always exist. For example, strategies implemented to reduce the potential of utility conflicts that can cause delays once a project has been initiated on a roadway can be viewed as having a safety and mobility benefit. (3,4) On the other hand, other utility conflict and coordination strategies that have been documented in the past primarily address the reduction of delays in starting a project to the owner agency and/or the elimination of conflict between agencies and utility owners over damages. In these instances, the benefits of utility coordination may fall outside the realm of work zone safety and mobility impact reduction. Also, other project management strategies exist that agencies and contractors use to reduce total project durations or durations of critical phases (i.e., accelerated construction techniques, innovative contracting strategies that consider proposed work times in the project bid, etc.). Fortunately, a significant amount of guidance already exists regarding these particular strategies. (5,6) Although important to minimizing work zone safety and mobility impacts, these strategies focus on the impacts of a single project rather than on reducing the combined effect of two or more projects that more typically define what is meant by PC.


Efforts to coordinate projects in a corridor or region to achieve safety and mobility benefits can be traced back nearly 30 years, when major freeway reconstruction projects in several metropolitan areas led to the development and implementation of some of the first transportation management plans (TMPs). (7,8) In these early examples, practitioners often identified widening, channelization, and signal timing projects to improve capacity and operating conditions on alternative routes to a major freeway. These projects were scheduled to occur prior to the reconstruction of that freeway, and were often paid for by the state DOT as part of the transportation management expenses allocated to the freeway reconstruction project. Routine maintenance activities of those alternative routes were then typically restricted to emergency repairs only for the duration of the major freeway reconstruction effort. By sequencing those other projects first and then restricting other non-essential work on the alternative routes, the impacts of the major freeway project were reduced. Diverted traffic from the freeway could be better accommodated on the alternative routes so that overall corridor delay was less than it would have been without the alternative route improvements. The importance of Project Coordination (PC) within the TMP development process continues to be emphasized today. The successes experienced by implementing TMPs in mitigating work zone impacts ultimately led FHWA to adopt rulemaking requiring TMPs for significant projects under the Work Zone Safety and Mobility Rule. (9) Current guidance on TMP development recommends the consideration of PC strategies within the overall plan. (10) More recent examples of efforts to develop TMPs and sequence projects in an optimum manner can also be found in the literature. (11)

Beyond the focused efforts to coordinate sub-projects to help mitigate the impacts of a single, larger project, there are also examples where agencies try to coordinate unrelated projects or other activities occurring within the right-of-way (particularly those involving the closure of travel lanes or other disruptions to normal traffic patterns) in a way that reduces their effects upon the traveling public, nearby residents, and/or businesses. For example, both California and Virginia reportedly employ a district or regional coordinator for lane closures on the state system. (11) Lane closure requests are submitted to the coordinator, who reviews their locations and times and approves or rejects the requests depending on what other lane closures may be scheduled for the same time. Similarly, some local agencies manage project activities through a permitting process, requiring requests for work in the agency right-of-way prior to the entity beginning work in or around the roadway. (12,13) In other examples, multiple agencies share with each other current and upcoming project schedules and tasks that will impact traffic on their part of the transportation system. (14,15,16) In these instances, the emphasis is on ensuring that all stakeholders in a corridor or region are aware of each other’s upcoming activities. Points of contact for each project are readily available in case any of the other agencies has a question or needs to discuss details. In some cases, this sharing of information also provides data for publicizing upcoming work within the corridor or region so that travelers know what to expect and can adjust their travel plans accordingly. (17)


Previous attempts to develop Project Coordination (PC) guidance have taken a fairly broad brush to the topic, typically combining many of the other strategies that comprise TMP development with PC activities. This approach makes it difficult to understand how exactly PC can be improved by an agency to achieve safety and mobility benefits relative to a no-coordination alternative. The sections that follow in this report focus on improving this understanding and illustrating how better PC can be achieved.

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