Work Zone Mobility and Safety Program

1. Background & Purpose of Research

1.1 Background

In 2004, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) finalized updates to the Work Zone Safety and Mobility Rule. In an effort to improve mobility and safety for motorists and highway workers, the Rule required the development and implementation of a Transportation Management Plan (TMP) for any project that receives Federal funding. TMPs are recommended for other projects as well, regardless of project size, duration, traffic volumes, or work type.

A TMP consists of strategies to manage the work zone impacts of a project. Its scope, content, and degree of detail may vary based upon the State's work zone policy and the expected work zone impacts of a project. While TMPs are required by the FHWA Work Zone Safety and Mobility Rule for all Federal-aid highway projects, States can impose broader policies that address other projects.1 For example, Rhode Island Department of Transportation (DOT) prescribes the use of TMPs for not only Federal-aid road construction projects, but also for all planned maintenance and other activities requiring a temporary traffic control permit, regardless of size or funding source.2 Many States see the value in TMPs and develop them for all road projects.

TMPs outline specific strategies to be employed that will help achieve project goals associated with traffic mobility, safety of motorists and workers, and other operational targets. TMPs are important to clearly defining and communicating the comprehensive plan for project management to internal State DOT staff, contractors, the public, and the media.

A large number of TMP strategies were identified in a TMP guide developed by FHWA in 2006. These strategies vary in complexity, ease of use, and cost. The TMP strategies selected for use on any given project are determined based on the unique conditions at the work zone site. For instance, if alternate roadway networks exist in the vicinity of the work zone, a strategy could be to use alternate routes during times of high traffic volumes, or even for the duration of the project.

Many TMP strategies have been implemented by practitioners, but practitioners and researchers are often uncertain of their relative effectiveness. Quantifying TMP strategy benefits can be challenging for a number of reasons, including the transient nature of work zones, the cost of evaluation, and the fact that strategies are rarely implemented in isolation.

Documentation of specific operational and safety factors related to TMP strategies has the potential to help practitioners gauge the strategy's overall success and make determinations of when to use certain strategies. Future use of a strategy could be influenced by its implementation ease/difficulty, cost of implementation, and effect on operational and safety performance goals, as well as other factors such as site-specific characteristics.

1.2 Research Purpose

Agencies could develop better, more effective, and more economical TMPs if they had more data on the effectiveness of the potential TMP strategies available for a given project. Effectiveness information could help practitioners better understand which TMP strategies are most likely to improve work zone safety and mobility in various circumstances, and where, when, and how to implement particular strategies to maximize effectiveness. The strategy information included in earlier guidance documents has tended to be more high-level and general, such as a strategy description, suggestions of applicable situations for use of a strategy, general information on possible benefits and challenges, and in some cases a few case study examples. While this information provides a good starting point, for many strategies it could be built upon by having a greater understanding of the usage, effectiveness, and cost effectiveness of each strategy in the field.

Research Objectives

  • Identify and assess evaluation approaches and scopes.
  • Determine data needs.
  • Identify relevant work completed to date.
  • Recommend approaches and scopes.

Ultimately, work zone practitioners want to know the cause and effect relationship between choosing certain strategies and the corresponding impact those strategies will have on the operational aspects of the project. While selecting and deploying TMP strategies can sometimes be complex, the more that practitioners know how each strategy combines with a set of defined project characteristics and with other strategies, the greater the potential to produce desirable and predictable results.

State DOTs select specific TMP strategies for several reasons, including:

  • The level of certainty that the strategy will perform in a way and at a level that meets the operational and safety goals of the project;
  • Federal regulations or industry requirements, such as the MUTCD;
  • Relative cost;
  • Cost effectiveness;
  • Time and effort needed for implementation;
  • Project parameters and needs; and
  • Political or regional needs.

To assess the potential for capturing and reporting the effectiveness of TMP strategies, FHWA undertook a research effort regarding TMP strategy effectiveness. The objective of this research effort is to identify and assess possible approaches to evaluating TMP strategies, determine what data are needed and available to support an assessment, identify any relevant work completed to date, and provide recommendations on the feasibility and usefulness of, and possible approaches for, conducting an assessment of TMP strategy effectiveness.

The research has been guided by the following four questions:

  1. What has been done by agencies to assess the effectiveness of TMP strategies to date?
  2. What approaches (e.g., types, scopes) have been tried and/or studied in practice?
  3. Does it seem feasible and useful to assess the effectiveness of TMP strategies?
  4. Do practitioners and other researchers think it is feasible and useful to assess the effectiveness of TMP strategies?

Using information gathered from published materials and practitioners, researchers assessed the practicality and value of TMP strategy evaluation and potential approaches for assessment.

1 Federal Register, 23 CFR Part 630, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, "Work Zone Safety and Mobility." (Washington, D.C.: 2004) Available at: (accessed October 2010). [ Return to note 1. ]

2 Rhode Island Department of Transportation, "Transportation Management Plans" web page. Available at: (accessed November 2011). [ Return to note 2. ]

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