The State of the Work Zone ITS Industry

We are starting a new construction season so I thought it would be a good time to review our progress as an industry, look at where we stand today, and talk a little about prospects for this coming year.

2015 was an important year for all of us. It was in 2015 that we began to get good hard data to support the value of work zone ITS. The Texas Transportation Institute led the charge with their My35 queue warning system research. Their data is not final, but it is clear that use of a queue warning system has reduced end of queue crashes by as much as 45%. It has also significantly reduced the severity of the crashes that do still occur. We have always known these systems are effective. Now we can prove it.

Illinois DOT has shared data from work zones on a stretch of interstate under construction two years in a row. The first year a queue warning system was not used. The second year one was used. In that second year the work zone was in place for a longer period of time, yet they saw far fewer end of queue crashes just as they did in Texas.

This data will result in much greater use of end of queue systems. Another effort that is helping is the Every Day Counts initiative from FHWA. They just completed webinar number 12 of the Smarter Work Zones series. This focus on proven work zone ITS and how to deploy it has done wonders to promote these life saving technologies. You can view any of these webinars now at: https://www.workzonesafety.org/swz/webinars/ .

More good news came on the procurement front. Agency design folks have passed up work zone ITS in the past because they didn’t know how to write it into their construction bid documents and didn’t have the time to figure it out. But now states like Texas, Iowa and Illinois have shown us the way with innovative on-demand contracts for queue warning systems. This allows the traffic operations folks to use these systems when and where they are needed. Including systems in large jobs still makes sense, but this on-demand method allows far greater use on smaller jobs where traffic impacts were not clear before the job was let. Many other states are now adopting this model including Indiana, Michigan and North Carolina.

As more and more states begin to use work zone ITS, the resulting data can be used to prove the value of these systems once again. And that will push even more states to follow suit.

In the meantime, we are seeing help from another, unlikely source: the autonomous vehicle industry. Discussions at autonomous vehicle events between their designers and work zone ITS practitioners have shown great potential for collaboration going forward. They now understand they need to know where work zones are located in real time and they are interested in how we can help them do that. Don’t be surprised if we hear several big announcements on this subject in 2016!

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