Ohio DOT Testing ‘Smart’ Work Zone Safety Systems

The Ohio Department of Transportation is in the process of testing several different technologies designed to improve work zone safety at highway construction sites where I-70, I-71, and State Route 315 meet in downtown Columbus.

[Above photo by the Ohio DOT]

The agency said these safety systems should help reduce the risk of congestion-related work zone crashes. While keeping traffic flowing smoothly through highway work zones is always the goal, it can be challenging in a heavily traveled work zone.

Photo by the Ohio DOT

To address potential backups, Ohio DOT added queue detection systems along SR 315 south and I-70 east to warn drivers of slow traffic ahead.

That system includes sensors along the road to detect the speed of traffic and relay that information to digital message boards. The message boards then alert drivers to real-time speeds, allowing them to safely slow down and avoid rear-end crashes.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to make our work zones safer,” noted Ohio DOT District 6 Deputy Director Anthony Turowski in a statement. “With a project of this scale, it’s important to think outside of the box. These innovative tools allow us to effectively and quickly communicate real-time information to help drivers make better decisions while traveling through this area.”

Ohio DOT said it already uses variable speed limit signs in work zones, which display a reduced speed limit along with flashing lights when workers are present. However, on the I-71-I-70-SR 315 project, the agency also deployed flashing signs at construction exits to caution drivers when a vehicle is detected leaving the work zone.

Anthony Turowski. Photo by Ohio DOT.

Often, trucks exiting the work zone travel at a lower rate of speed while merging with interstate traffic, so these signs can help drivers anticipate potential conflicts, Turowski noted.

“While these devices certainly enhance safety, nothing is more effective than an attentive driver,” he explained. “When you see work ahead, you should slow down, keep your focus on the road, and keep your hands on the wheel.”

In 2021, Ohio DOT said it recorded nearly 4,800 work zone crashes, of which 35 percent occurred with workers present. Those crashes resulted in 1,759 injuries and 29 deaths, making 2021 one of the deadliest years for work zones in recent history.

Other state departments of transportation are experimenting with ways to improve work zone safety as well.

Photo by the VTTI

For example, researchers with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) recently collaborated with the Virginia Department of Transportation and GeoStabilization International to pilot test “smart” work zone technology along U.S. Route 23 in Wise, VA.

VTTI said this “safety system” for work zones aims to decrease injuries and fatalities for both highway crews and motorists by creating a “digital boundary” that alerts workers when they approach its edge, keeping them safe from potential roadway hazards.

In February, the North Carolina Department of Transportation began collaborating with technology provider one.network to translate NCDOT’s work zone information into Work Zone Data Exchange standard, which sets a standard way of sharing work zone data to third party mobile device applications.

“This improvement will lead to more timely updates for travelers using third-party map apps, making our work zones even safer,” explained Kelly Wells, NCDOT’s traveler information engineer who oversees the department’s DriveNC.gov website.

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