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Safe and Effective Use of Law Enforcement Personnel in Highway Work Zones: Pocket Guide

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ROAD WORK AHEAD sign and a police car

Written/Compiled by:

Juan M. Morales, P.E.
J.M. Morales & Associates
1320 Pavilion Club Way
Reston, VA 20194
(703) 471-7031
Web address: www.jmmassoc.com
E-mail: jmmassoc@aol.com

For

American Traffic Safety Services Association
15 Riverside Parkway, Suite 100
Fredericksburg, VA 22406
(800) 272-8772
Web Address: www.atssa.com
E-mail: general@atssa.com


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface

Introduction

Objectives of Highway Work Zones

Roles and Responsibilities

Common Police Service in Work Zones

Understanding Work Zone Traffic Control

    Standards and Guidelines

    Component Parts of Typical Work Zone

Recommended Practices

Field Checklist

Typical Applications

References


Preface

The purpose of this guide is to present basic guidelines for the safe and effective use of law enforcement officers in highway work zones. This handy reference presents information on the options available to both officers and contractors working on highway construction sites.

Most of the information contained in this guide was obtained from the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), 2003 Edition, several focus groups with traffic safety and law enforcement personnel, and other references listed in the References section of this document.

This guide does not constitute a standard, recommended procedure or regulation of any kind. Specific standards and procedures that apply to the use of law enforcement officers may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, depending on the type of work, its duration, and several other factors. Users should not rely on the information contained in this guide but use it solely to develop their own specific procedures as needed. Users are also encouraged to obtain specific information about state-specific standards and guidelines, local requirements, best practices and successful lessons learned.

Juan M. Morales, P.E.
J.M. Morales & Associates
1320 Pavilion Club Way
Reston, VA 20194
(703) 471-7031
Web address: www.jmmassoc.com
E-mail: jmmassoc@aol.com


Introduction

Highway work zones can be dangerous to everyone involved. Passenger and commercial vehicles travel very close to highway workers and construction crews. Motorists often miss or purposely ignore regulatory and warning signs. Work zone crashes often involve highway workers and can be deadly. In an attempt to reduce work zone crashes, many state highway agencies use uniformed police officers to deter risky or unsafe driving. The safety of workers and law enforcement personnel within the work zone is just as important as the safety of the traveling public. While they enable the efficient completion of highway work, work zones present constantly changing conditions road users do not expect. This increases the risk for workers and law enforcement personnel on or near the roadway.

Although the use of police officers is promoted as a way to increase work zone safety, no specific guidance exists that addresses the need to coordinate traffic control and enforcement activities with the officers. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which defines the principles and procedures used by all States when designing and implementing work zones, does not provide guidance on this issue. However, the widespread use of police officers in highway work zones underscores the need for such guidance.

This pocket guide explains work zone operations and outlines roles and responsibilities. It contains guidelines and concepts developed from the MUTCD and meetings of the work zone law enforcement training steering group. These guidelines are intended to help law enforcement and transportation agencies provide more efficient traffic control, prevent crashes and save lives.

Common pitfalls when using law enforcement officers in highway work zones include:

  • Lack of communication between work zone participants (project owner, workers and officers)
  • Lack of understanding of each other's roles and responsibilites
  • Lack of planning and coordination
  • Inadequate training of law enforcement personnel in traffic control procedures within highway work zones
  • Officers' lack of knowledge and proper work zone standards, guidelines and procedures

This guide addresses these pitfalls utilizing simple, non technical language. It is designed to be used as a field reference, to be carried by officers assigned to work in highway work zones for quick consultation.

This guide does not constitute a recommended procedure or regulation of any kind. Specific standards and procedures may apply to the use of law enforcement officers in your jurisdiction. You should supplement the information in this guide with applicable regulations, standards and requirements. 


Objectives of Highway Workzones

The primary objectives of temporary traffic control in highway work zones are to:

  • Provide for the safe and efficient movement of road users, including motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists, through or around the work area
  • Protect workers, equipment and law enforcement personnel

Work zones present constantly changing conditions that may be unexpected by the road user. This creates an even higher degree of vulnerability for the workers and law enforcement personnel on or near the roadway.

Road user safety, worker and officer safety and the efficiency of road user flow is integral to every work zone, from planning through completion. 


Roles and Responsibilities

Safe and effective work zones result from good planning and execution. Several agencies may have roles and responsibilities in the process.

Typically, the project owner designs the work zone and hires a contractor to execute the work. The contractor may have workers and supervisors monitoring the field work and may use a traffic control services vendor to implement the traffic control plan. The contractor may also hire the services of law enforcement officers to assist with various tasks. The Department of Transportation (DOT) may also have agreements with law enforcement agencies to use officers in work zones.

The table below summarizes roles and responsibilities of typical work zone stakeholders:

Stakeholder Typical Agency Typical Roles and Responsibilites
Project Owner State Department of Transportation, County, City, etc. Concieve the project

Fund the project

Design the project1

Develop and approve a traffic control plan (TCP)

Hire contractor to execute the project

May require and hire (directly or indirectly) law enforcement officers, if needed

Supervise the project
Highway Contractor Construction Company, etc. Execute the project

Ensure that the work zone is according to the approved plan on a daily basis

Temporary traffic control

Installation and removal of traffic control devices

Documentation of the project

Designate a field Point of Contact (POC)

Ensures that the approved traffic control plan is follwed

Hire law enforcement officers, if needed
Contractor's Point of Contact (POC)2 Traffic control supervisor, foreman, highway agency inspector, etc. Represent the contractor in the field

Make minor modifications to the approve 
Traffic Control Plan, if authorized

Supervise field workers

Communicate/coordinate with law enforcement personnel, if used

Inspect the work zone periodically

Be trained in safe traffic control practices

Be visible and alert
Field workers Traffic control technicians, workers, etc. Report to the work zone supervisor

Install and remove devices as instructed

Notify supervisor of problems and close calls

Understand and support the role of law enforcement

Be trained in safe traffic control practices

Be visible and alert
Law enforcement officers State police agency, police department, etc. Reduce the likelihood of speeding through presence

Enforce traffic laws

Control traffice, if applicable

Maintain communcation with POC

Be visible and alert

Position themselves in an area that is both safe and effective

Be informed about the project's objectives, schedule and progress

Drive through the work zone

Notify the point of contact of potential problems

Be trained in safe traffic control practices

1 May contract-out these responsibilites 


Common Police Services in Work Zones

Law enforcement officers may provide various services when assigned to a highway work zone. It is important for officers to have a complete understanding of their role in a work zone.

The following table lists some law enforcement responsibilites.

Type of Service Typical Activities
Presence Deter speeding and aggresive driving

Gain the attention of drivers

Protect workers

Most common service in work zone

Usually involves "off-duty" officers

Presence officers are not primarily involved with traffic law enforcement
Enforcement Active enforce traffic laws in the work zone

May not be as common as presence

May be combined with presence

Usually involves "on-duty" officers
Traffic Control Control traffic where needed and where flaggers cannot (intersections, traffic incident areas, etc.)

May be used in detour situations

Direct traffic to keep it moving

Requires training and special equipment
Emergency Assistance Control traffic in and around incident area

Minimize the probability of a secondary crash

Report crashes

The following table highlights tasks every law enforcement officer in a work zone should
Perform:

Task Activities
Communicate Report to the POC at the beginning of shift

Contact project engineer for clarification & directions

Remain in contact with local dispatch
Be Visible Emergency lights on, headlights off

If outside patrol vehicle & within work zone, shall wear retroflective safety vest (ANSI 107-2004 Class 2 or higher)
Be Alert Stay alert at all times

Avoid activities that might be distracting

Keep your eye on traffic
Drive-Through Drive through the work zones in both directions from all entry points

Become familiar with the work zone and its activities

Determine safe places to investigate crashes and for enforcement

Identify hazardous conditions

Notify the point of contact of any deficiencies and/or potential problems
Investigate Crashes May investigate minor property damages crashes, if time to investigate is minimal

Do not abandon position if in "presence" function

Do not investigate crashes with injuries

Call for assistance
Arrive Early and Leave Late ("15-minute rule") Be present when the traffic control devices are being installed or removed

Arrive at least 15 minutes before devices are installed

Leave 15 minutes after devices are removed
Monitor compliance with the traffic control plan (TCP) May inspect the TCP for problems

Detect safety violations

Notify supervisor of possible problems


Understanding Work Zone Traffic Control

Standards and Guidelines

Minimum Federal temporary traffic control standards can be found in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), published by the US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. The standards, guidelines and options included in this Federal publication are applicable in all streets and roadways open to public travel. States and other local jurisdiction may deviate from the MUTCD as long as their standards and guidelines exceed those found in the Manual.

Although the MUTCD does not contain explicit guidelines for the use of law enforcement officers in work zones, the same principles that govern the design and usage of traffic control devices apply.

Not all work zones are the same. They vary depending on many factors, such as specific state requirements, duration and/or location of the work and other variables. Work zones do share some basic concepts and terms. For example, all work zones have an “advance warning area,” where motorists are warned, through the use of warning signs, about the conditions ahead.

Component Parts of a Typical Work Zone

Although work zones vary in design, the following figure illustrates components of a typical work zone:

1. The Advanced Warning AreaROAD WORK sign

The advance warning area is the section of highway where road users are informed about the upcoming work zone area. This area usually contains “advance warning signs” in advance of the work zone activity area:

  • First sign alerts motorists (i.e., ROAD WORK AHEAD)
  • Second sign indicates the condition ahead (i.e., RIGHT LANE CLOSED AHEAD)
  • Third sign indicated the required action (i.e., symbolic MERGE LEFT)

 

The following table lists some advance warning sign guidelines:

Shape Diamond shape
Min. Size 48” x 48” in high speed highways

36” x 36” in moderate speed highways
Color Orange in work zones

Fluorescent pink in incident management areas (optional)
Material Aluminum if post mounted

Vinyl "rollups" if attended

Mesh for daytime only

Retroflective at night
Min. Height (from elevation of pavement to bottom of sign) 7’ for post-mounted signs in urban areas

5’ for post-mounted signs in rural areas

1’ for signs mounted on temporary supports
Lateral clearance (from corner of the sign to travel surface) 2’ - 4’ in urban areas

6’ - 12’ in rural areas

May be used on both sides of highway facility.
Spacing between signs 100’ in low-speed urban areas3

350’ in high-speed urban areas

500’ in rural areas

1000’ - ½ mile in freeways and expressways
Sign Covering Cover or remove the sign completely if sign is not applicable, even for short periods of time

Burlap is not permitted

Covering of only the legend is not permitted

3 Individual states define “low speed” and “high speed,” but the dividing line is generally 35–40 mph. Use your jurisdiction’s rules and/or guidelines. If in doubt, assume it is “high speed”.

2. The Transition Area

The transition area is where road users are redirected out of their normal path. This area usually involves the use of tapers (gradual transitions). Tapers are critical to the effective operation of lane closures and other transitions. They are created using channelizing devices (cones, barricades or drums) and/or pavement markings to move traffic out of or into the normal path. Improper tapers may create unnecessary congestion and unsafe conditions.

  • Lane closures require merging tapers in which traffic is required to merge from one lane to another.
  • Transition areas are formed by traffic control devices such as cones, drums and barricades
  • Long tapers help traffic maintain speed, eliminating congested conditions quickly.
  • Short tapers encourage drivers to slow down. As a general rule, long tapers are better than short tapers.


IMPORTANT EXCEPTION: “FLAGGING TAPER”

When closing one lane of a two-lane road, the transition area requires short tapers (50'–100' maximum) and flaggers, who may need to stop traffic in one direction to prevent head-on collisions.

Drum

 

Traffic control devices are used to warn road users of the conditions created by the work activities and to provide the necessary guidance and control. The following table provides general guidelines for various devices that may be used in the work zone (may vary by jurisdiction): 

 

 

Cone Two white retroreflective band for night use

At least 28” in height for high-speed facilities

Must be attended
Drums Alternating orange and white stripes

May be supplemented with steady-burn warning lights when used to form a taper or tangent (straight line).
Barricades Diagonal stripes slope down to the traffic side
Arrow Panels Use in addition to signs, not in lieu of

On the shoulder, displaying an arrow, for lane closures

If possible, out of the travel lane

May be inside taper if no shoulder is available

Not in buffer space

Do not use on two-lane roads or lane shifts

When off, store at least 30 feet from the travel lane

50% dimming for nighttime use
Warning Lights Yellow lens

At least 30” high

Steady-burn for delineation (used in series along the taper and/or work areas)

Flashing if used on signs or to draw attention to hazardous areas

Arrow Panels

Arrow panels (or arrow boards) can supplement static signs on lane or shoulder closures:

  • Some states require them for high-speed lane closures and high traffic density. Arrow Panel
  • When used for a lane closure on a multilane highway, place at the beginning of the taper, on the shoulder.
  • Keep out of the travel lane, if possible.
  • If closing more than one lane, use an arrow panel for each closed lane.
  • If shoulder is not available or too narrow, place inside the taper as close as possible to the beginning of the taper.
  • When off, store at least 30 feet from the travel lane.
  • Do not use arrow panels (displaying arrows) on two-lane roads or on lane shifts.
  • At night, they shall be dimmed
  • Use arrows (or chevrons, if permitted) ONLY when a lane is closed

The appropriate taper length (L), maximum channelizing device spacing and buffer length (BL) should be determined using the following table:

Speed (mph) Merging Taper, L (feet) Shifting Taper, ½ L (feet) Max Device Spacing on Taper (feet) Max Device Spacing on Tangent (Past Taper) (feet) Buffer Length, BL (feet)
25 125 63 25 50 155
30 180 90 30 60 200
35 245 123 35 70 250
40 320 160 40 80 305
45 540 270 45 90 360
50 600 300 50 100 425
55 660 330 55 110 495
60 720 360 60 120 570
65 780 390 65 130 645
70 840 420 70 140 730
75 900 450 75 150 820

Notes:

  1. A merging taper generally reduces the number of lanes, while a shifting taper moves traffic over, maintaining the same number of lanes. Shifting tapers are used when a lateral shift is needed.
  2. Spacing (separation) between devices, in feet, must be less than the posted speed, in mph. 

HOW TO APPROXIMATE DISTANCES IN THE FIELD

  1. Pacing Method: In advance, determine the length of your stride and how may paces it would take you to cover the suggested taper and device spacing. Enter this information in the table below.
  2. Skip-Line Method: Upon arrival, determine the pattern of the skip lines. Most skip lines are on a “10-30” pattern: the painted lines are 10 feet long and the gap between them is 30 feet long. For this example, there are 40 feet from the beginning of one line to the beginning of the next line, so counting 10 skips would equal 400 feet.
Speed (mph) Merging Taper, L (paces) Shifting Taper, ½ L (paces) Max Device Spacing on Taper (paces) Max Device Spacing on Tangent (Past Taper) (paces) Buffer Length, BL (paces)
< 25          
30          
35          
40          
45          
50          
55          
60          
65          
70          
75          

 3. The Activity Area

 The table below describes the different areas within the “activity area”:

Buffer Space (BL) Separates road users from the work zone.

Provides recovery space for an errant vehicle.

Should be completely empty.

Do not position a patrol vehicle in the buffer space.

Some buffer is better than no buffer at all.

See taper table for recommended buffer lengths (BL).
Work Space Area closed to road users and set aside for workers, materials, work equipment and work vehicles.

Usually marked off by cones, drums or other channelizing devices.
Traffic Space Area open to road users

 4. Termination AreaEnd Road Work Sign

The termination area is used to return road users to their normal path.

  • It extends past the work area to return traffic to normal.
  • May include (optional) a termination taper (100' minimum, per lane) and an END ROAD WORK sign (rectangular in shape and orange). 

Recommended Practices

The following recommendations may assist officers who are assigned to “presence” duty in a highway work zone.

  • These are not standards or regulations
  • Specific standards and procedures may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction
  • Do not rely only on this information, but use it to develop your own specific procedures
  • Obtain information about state-specific regulations, local requirements, best practices and successful lessons learned.

Where should you be?

Suggested officer location 

Recommended practices for the use of law enforcement officers on highway lane closures (when serving the function of “presence”):

Stage Recommended Activities
Before the work begins Attend the pre-construction conference, if possible

Familiarize yourself with the project

Identify your points of contact and establish communication:
      Project owner
      Field contact

Ask questions about your role

Voice concerns about your safety, if any
Upon arrival at the work zone  Arrive early at the project, at least 15 minutes before devices are installed

Contact your point of contact

Identify your role and safest location

Gather information about the project

Drive-through the work zone

Note signs in the advance warning area

Identify possible relocating procedures

Turn emergency lights on and headlights off
While at the work zone Be alert, paying constant attention to traffic

If applicable, face traffic!

Be visible!

Do not assume drivers will see you.

Expect the unexpected and be ready to react

Be in contact!

Headlights off and turn emergency light on

Pay attention to queues that may form and relocate as necessary

Contact your POC if adjustments are needed or if you see any deficiencies in the work zone

If work zone is stationary:
Position your vehicle on the shoulder, between the second and third sign in the advance warning area

Do not park in buffer space

Relocate as needed based on traffic conditions, trying to be ¼ mile behind the end of the queue

If work zone is continuously moving:
Move with the work zone, if appropriate, depending on the speed of the work zone

It may not be feasible to face traffic so pay as much attention to traffic as possible

Relocate as needed based on traffic conditions, trying to be ¼ mile behind the end of the queue
After the work is completed Stay at least 15 minutes to monitor traffic conditions


Field Checklist

  • I have a complete understanding of the work zone in which I have been assigned to work (type of work, duration, advance warning signs, tapers, buffers, etc.).
  • I know and understand my role at this work zone.
  • I have identified and contacted the point of contact in the field.
  • I have driven through the work zone, from both directions and all entry points, to familiarize myself with the work zone.
  • If applicable, I have expressed concerns about my safety and I am satisfied with the resolution.
  • I arrived at least 15 minutes before traffic control devices were installed.
  • I have identified the safest, most effective location to position my patrol vehicle.
  • I have my patrol vehicle’s headlights off.
  • I have my emergency lights on.
  • My patrol vehicle is as visible as it can be.
  • My vehicle is facing traffic, if applicable.
  • My patrol vehicle IS NOT parked in the buffer space or in an open lane of traffic.
  • I am alert and paying complete attention to traffic.
  • If traffic backs-up, I have identified a relocation procedure.
  • My patrol vehicle is positioned at least ¼ mile before the beginning of the queue of traffic.
  • I have a retroreflective vest (ANSI 107-2004 Class 2 or higher) in case I need to be outside my patrol vehicle.
  • I will leave the work zone at least 15 minutes after the traffic control devices are removed. 

Typical Applications 

The following example illustrations show typical applications of various highway work zones, as included in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), 2003 Edition (http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/). These examples cover a variety of situations commonly encountered in work zones.

In general, these illustrations show minimum solutions. The information can be adapted to a broad range of conditions.

These illustrations do not address the use of law enforcement officers in work zones. Additionally, officers should use judgment based on the traffic control setup, site characteristics, and location of adjacent driveways or parking lots.

They are intended as a guide to help you identify possible inappropriate and unsafe traffic control setups and conditions.

You must study the roles of law enforcement officers in work zones carefully on a case-by-case basis. State and local standards, guidelines and regulations may vary.

Table 6H-2. Meaning of Symbols on Typical Application Diagram

 Table 6H-2. Meaning of Symbols on Typical Application Diagram

 

 

Figure 6H-4. Short Duration or Mobile Operation on Shoulder (TA-4)

 

 Figure 6H-4. Short Duration or Mobile Operation on Shoulder

 

Figure 6H-5. Shoulder Closure on Freeway (TA-5) 

Figure 6H-5. Shoulder Closure on Freeway

 

 Figure 6H-10. Lane Closure on Two-Lane Road Using Flaggers (TA-10)

 Figure 6H-10. Lane Closure on Two-Lane Road Using Flaggers

 

Figure 6H-17. Mobile Operations on Two-Lane Road (TA-17)

 Figure 6H-17. Mobile Operations on Two-Lane Road

 

 

Figure 6H-21. Lane Closure on Near Side of Intersection (TA-21)

 Figure 6H-21. Lane Closure on Near Side of Intersection

 

Figure 6H-22. Right Lane Closure on Far Side of Intersection (TA-22)

 Figure 6H-22. Right Lane Closure on Far Side of Intersection

 

Figure 6H-23. Left Lane Closure on Far Side of Intersection (TA-23)

 Figure 6H-23. Left Lane Closure on Far Side of Intersection

 

Figure 6H-26. Closure in Center of Intersection (TA-26)

 Figure 6H-26. Closure in Center of Intersection

Figure 6H-27. Closure at Side of Intersection (TA-27)

 Figure 6H-27. Closure at Side of Intersection

 Figure 6H-30. Interior Lance Closure on Multi-lane Street (TA-30)

 Figure 6H-30. Interior Lance Closure on Multi-lane Street

Figure 6H-32. Half Road Closure on Multi-lane, High-Speed Highway (TA-32)

 Figure 6H-32. Half Road Closure on Multi-lane, High-Speed Highway

Figure 6H-33. Stationary Lane Closure on Divided Highway (TA-33)

 Figure 6H-33. Stationary Lane Closure on Divided Highway

Figure 6H-34. Lane Closure with Temporary Traffic Barrier (TA-34)

 Figure 6H-34. Lane Closure with Temporary Traffic Barrier

Figure 6H-35. Mobile Operation on Multi-lane Road (TA-35)

 Figure 6H-35. Mobile Operation on Multi-lane Road

 

Figure 6H-36. Lane Shift on Freeway (TA-36)

 Figure 6H-36. Lane Shift on Freeway

Figure 6H-37. Double Lane Closure on Freeway (TA-37)

 Figure 6H-37. Double Lane Closure on Freeway

 

Figure 6H-38. Interior Lane Closure on Freeway (TA-38)

 Figure 6H-38. Interior Lane Closure on Freeway

 

Figure 6H-39. Median Crossover on Freeway (TA-39)

 Figure 6H-39. Median Crossover on Freeway

Figure 6H-42. Work in Vicinity of Exit Ramp (TA-42)

 Figure 6H-42. Work in Vicinity of Exit Ramp

Figure 6H-43. Partial Exit Ramp Closure (TA-43)

 Figure 6H-43. Partial Exit Ramp Closure

 

Figure 6H-44. Work in Vicinity of Entrance Ramp (TA-44)

 

 Figure 6H-44. Work in Vicinity of Entrance Ramp

 

References

  1. Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, 2003 Edition, Federal Highway Administration, Washington, DC, http:mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov.
  2. Morales, Juan M., Emergency Traffic Control for Emergency Responders Training Course, American Traffic Safety Services Association, Fredericksburg, VA, 2003.
  3. Brainstorming Sessions on the subject, Federal Highway Administration, Washington, DC, 2004.
  4. Morales, Juan M., Pilot presentation of Safe and Effective Use of Law Enforcement Personnel in Highway Work Zones training course, Nashville, TN, 2004.
  5. Morales, Juan M., Guide for Law Enforcement Personnel in Work Zones, edited and later published, Federal Highway Administration, Washington, DC, 2005.

Last modified: 2/26/2009

Categories: Mobile Operations | Road Closure | Short Duration | Temporary Traffic Control | Lane Closure | Law Enforcement | Traffic Control Devices