Work Zone Mobility and Safety Program

Guide to Project Coordination for Minimizing Work Zone Mobility Impacts



As suggested in Figure 1, effective Project Coordination (PC) can be viewed as an integration of three interdependent questions that need to be answered:

  • Who is involved?
  • When can or should it occur?
  • What does it accomplish?

Figure 1. Illustration of the three project coordination dimensions that need to be answered: Who is involved? When can or should it occur? What does it accomplish?

Figure 1. Illustration. Project Coordination Dimensions.

Who Should Be Involved in Project Coordination?

There are opportunities for Project Coordination (PC) to occur within a single agency, such as when multiple projects are being performed along a single route or across multiple routes all under the agency’s control. In the same manner, PC can also occur between two or more agencies. Requiring and granting access permits for entities to work within another agency’s right-of-way are examples of this type of coordination, as are multi-agency regional committees and teams specifically established to share project information and work to resolve potential work activity conflicts across a corridor or regional network.

When Should Project Coordination Occur?

Project Coordination (PC) can occur during project planning and design. Coordination during these phases of project development typically focus on scheduling and sequencing of projects in a more impact-minimizing way. Conversely, coordination can also occur during actual project delivery when work operations are occurring. In this phase, PC activities emphasize the identification and monitoring of the day-to-day work activities that adversely impact the transportation network and finding ways to mitigate the combined effects of those activities across multiple projects. It can be beneficial to think of these two dimensions of PC in a matrix format, as depicted in Table 1.

Table 1. Project Coordination Matrix.
  Examples of Project Coordination Activities by Project Phase:
Project Planning and Design
Examples of Project Coordination Activities by Project Phase:
Project Delivery
Agencies Involved:
  • Compiling a database of agency planned projects over the next 3-5 years
  • Developing a map showing project locations in the region, possibly color-coded to illustrate current, near-term, and long-term schedules
  • Determining and executing the sequence of the projects that will minimize total delays and disruptions to the traveling public in the corridor or region
  • Developing and implementing a regional transportation management plan that encompasses the various agency projects that are ongoing in a corridor or region
  • Conducting regular coordination meetings between staff of various projects going on simultaneously in a corridor or region to identify and eliminate potential lane closure conflicts, combine compatible lane closures into a single coordinated lane closure where possible, etc.
  • Establishing business processes to coordinate agency maintenance activities with nearby construction project efforts when possible
  • Linking an agency’s lane closure permitting approvals with agency construction and maintenance coordination efforts
Agencies Involved:
  • Expanding project database and mapping tools to include other agencies in region, utility companies, and private-sector developer projects that will impact the roadway system
  • Establishing a web-based approach to sharing and providing appropriate access to the database and map
  • Developing and implementing regional transportation management plan that considers and addresses projects being performed by all agencies and other stakeholders in the region
  • Conducting regular regional coordination meetings between stakeholders to resolve lane closure conflicts as they arise

What Does Project Coordination Accomplish?

The third dimension of Project Coordination (PC), what is being accomplished, is perhaps the most important to understand conceptually. Given the overall objective of minimizing the work zone safety and mobility impacts of multiple projects, PC actions themselves should be capable of being described in terms of how they can or will accomplish this impact mitigation objective. Some of the ways that work zone impacts can be mitigated through coordination include:

  • Sequencing the order in which multiple projects are completed to incrementally build additional capacity into the travel corridor or network, so that each completed project provides the greatest amount of benefit to travelers during each successive project.
  • Combining projects or project tasks along a travel route segment so that the impact to traffic occurs for the collective tasks at one time instead of individual impacts for each activity.
  • Scheduling projects or project tasks to avoid having significant capacity restrictions on a single travel route or on multiple roadways that serve as convenient alternatives for travelers when they encounter work zone congestion and delays.

The previous discussion of early TMP efforts to implement projects on alternative routes prior to a major freeway reconstruction was one example of the benefits of project sequencing. More recently, work completed under the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP-2) has yielded an optimization tool to help in the sequencing effort. The tool, Work Zone Impact and Strategy Estimator (WISE) software, is currently undergoing demonstration testing and is available to those interested in applying it to their situation. (18) Additional details about tools such as WISE and others that can facilitate PC efforts are provided later in this guide.

Another method of PC to mitigate work zone safety and mobility impacts relative to a no-coordination effort is the consolidation of several tasks from overlapping projects (or between project tasks and other maintenance or utility activities) into a single coordinated work effort. The intent of this particular action is to accomplish all of the necessary activities that may require access to travel lanes at the same time, and reduce the number of times that the travel lanes must be accessed. For example, two contractors working on adjacent sections of highway may coordinate tasks that require a lane closure to occur on the same day or night, and eliminate the need for two separate days or nights of a lane closure. Similarly, an agency may coordinate several maintenance and/or utility work tasks on a given route segment, and have all parties perform the work during a single lane or road closure. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet successfully used this approach during rehabilitation and repair work on Interstate 65 in Louisville. (19)

The third way in which PC can accomplish work zone safety and mobility impact reductions is to avoid creating multiple work zone bottlenecks at the same time along a single corridor or across several roadways in a region. Work zone activities that cause congestion and delays will typically encourage most motorists to divert to other routes in the corridor. (20) Ultimately, this reduces the demand at the work zone and results in a lessening of the overall impacts of the work zone upon corridor travel times and delays. However, if work zones are also located on those routes where traffic chooses to divert, the overall corridor impacts may not be improved and may actually be worse than if no diversion had occurred. Consequently, striving to ensure that a project on one roadway is not creating a bottleneck at the same time that a project on an adjacent roadway is also creating a bottleneck can be a highly-effective PC strategy. Likewise, the cumulative delays experienced by motorists encountering multiple work zones along a single trip can be excessive. Although it may not be possible to reduce the overall total vehicle-hours of delay that the series of projects may generate over their entire project lives, the effect on an individual motorist for a given trip can be mitigated.


Effective Project Coordination (PC) involves specific challenges and hurdles that agencies must work through in order to become proficient in PC execution. Some of the more significant challenges include the following:

  • Competing missions and charters can impede efforts to obtain multi-agency cooperation for the coordination of projects. Each agency has its own mission and charter with respect to routes of responsibility, stakeholders, and users. From a regional perspective, some PC efforts may be viewed as less beneficial to an agency’s users (i.e., upgrading capacity on an alternative route to allow more diverted traffic to utilize it may be viewed unfavorably by local residents who normally use that roadway).
  • Varying institutional constraints regarding the availability of funds and when those funds must be spent can also raise issues with PC. These financial pressures can hamper efforts to schedule and otherwise coordinate projects in a more “optimal” manner. In some instances, projects must be performed when the money becomes available.
  • Establishing and maintaining accurate information about project plans and day-to-day activities is also a challenge for agencies. Project activities and schedules change day-to-day due to weather, materials and equipment issues, delivery schedule changes, etc. Those most knowledgeable about the impact of these changes upon project activities are primarily concerned with getting the work completed on time and within budget. Methods of gathering project information at a frequency and detail necessary for certain PC activities are not always available. Even if they are available, staffing resources may not be adequate to support the information collection and maintenance effort.
  • Scheduling of individual projects may be impacted by PC efforts. For those projects that are contracted out, such effects on schedule may be viewed by the contractor as cause for damages unless the coordination efforts are approached from a cooperative, mutually beneficial perspective with the contractor. In some cases appropriate contract language may need to be in place to obtain that necessary cooperation from the contractor regarding coordination activities. The potential does exist for these types of contractual requirements to result in slightly higher costs for a project.
  • Quantifying the effect of PC quickly and effectively, or the negative effects if such coordination does not occur, is another challenge facing agencies. Estimates of the benefits of coordination can be strong incentive for justifying the coordination of projects in a corridor or region. Unfortunately, most agencies do not have the analytical tools in place to allow estimates to be computed and provide that incentive.


Some agencies have had very good success establishing a formal Project Coordination (PC) process. Developing that process typically consists of five major steps, with a feedback loop between the last two steps, as shown in Figure 2. As suggested in step 1, establishing a successful PC process first requires a clear vision of what the process is to achieve. This vision needs to begin, or at least be supported by upper management of the agency, as coordination efforts can sometimes require changes to existing contract language, reallocation of staff resources, and/or forging a cooperative relationship with other agencies and stakeholders in the region. Towards this end, it may be necessary to develop formal memorandums of understanding (MOUs) between stakeholders to obtain buy-in for the PC efforts. A coordination committee made up of decision-makers with authority to speak on behalf of their agency or entity is also needed. These individuals may come from several areas of the organization such as construction, maintenance, design, operations, traffic engineering, contract administration, and public information. Technical subcommittees may also be needed to identify and resolve specific technical issues that arise.

The next step is to develop the specific details of how PC will occur within this arrangement. The data or information that will be needed in order to accomplish PC must be identified. Roadway and traffic conditions that will exist and which may need to be considered within the projects are usually needed, such as travel times, traffic volumes and capacities, vehicle and load sizes that can be accommodated, etc. Tools that allow the committee to plan, monitor, and manage the projects will also be needed. These may include analytical tools to estimate expected traffic impacts, databases to log key information about each project or activity along a corridor or within a region, visualization tools such as geographic information system (GIS) programs that can map the projects in the database and make that map available to the various stakeholders in the region, and regular committee meetings. Also in this step, the committee will need to define the guidance that will be used to accomplish the PC vision. This could include strategies such as agreeing to a corridor or statewide TMP approach rather than a series of isolated project-level TMPs, establishing priorities to resolve conflicts between projects during construction, or methods of planning and scheduling projects for a particular construction season.

The third step towards achieving a PC process involves the education of agency personnel and personnel from other stakeholders about the PC process that will be followed. In particular, it is important that project staff understand the significance of the coordination efforts that will occur and why they are being implemented. It can also be helpful to explain the decision-making process that is going to occur (and the underlying data and analyses that are being used to drive the process).

The fourth step is actual implementation of the PC process. Regular coordination meetings should be held at the corridor/regional level of all the affected stakeholders. For state DOTs, this may involve multiple divisions and offices (i.e., planning, construction, maintenance, operations, permitting, public information). A focus of the meetings should be on tracking the various projects in the corridor or region as they move through the project development process. There can be a long-range assessment, where expected general traffic impacts and anticipated schedules are compared; a medium-range assessment activity, where the traffic impacts, expected project staging and sequencing, and anticipated letting dates are discussed and examined in greater detail; and a short-term or current project assessment where upcoming day-to-day scheduling of lane closures and other bottlenecks created are examined and coordinated to minimize travel impacts as best possible. Updates to the tracking databases and tools should occur regularly in this step as well.

The final step is then to refine the PC process as the stakeholders become more comfortable with the efforts, learn what is working well, and identify what needs to be revised. Early on, this refinement may be fairly extensive, and involve changes to committee and subcommittee structure and staff involvement. Over time, the refinements may become less frequent and less substantial.

Figure 2. Depiction of the five-step process flow described in the text for establishing a project coordination process in a region: establishing the project coordination vision, developing details of how coordination will occur, educating and informing internal and external stakeholders, implementing the project coordination process, and refining the process.

Figure 2. Process Flow. Steps to Establishing a Project Coordination Process in a Region.

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