Over the past decade, there has been an alarming number of deaths within work zones. In 2019, there were 762 fatal crashes related to work zones, accounting for 135 worker deaths. To help create safer work zone spaces and reduce the risk of crashes, changeable message signs are used to enhance worker safety and improve driver awareness. Historically, changeable message signs update drivers of upcoming work zone conditions. However, sign information provides few details on the type of delay (whether traffic is moving at reduced speeds or stopped) and the exact location of the slow or stopped traffic begins, leading to extensive congestion and driver frustration.
Smart Work Zones (SWZ) were developed to improve this issue. SWZ utilizes technology, like sensors or radar, to detect vehicle presence and provide real-time updates of work zones and traffic control conditions. If drivers are given details regarding the type of delay and the location of where it begins, this will help them decide whether they should find an alternate route or remain on the roadway.
Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise identified our SR 417 resurfacing project as an ideal candidate for a pilot project for the first SWZ incorporation on a design bid build project in the state. This project is an ideal pilot project for an SWZ due to the high speeds that drivers are accustomed to driving and the amount of traffic along this corridor. This SWZ consisted of a queue warning detection with a Portable Changeable Message Sign (PCMS) 0.75 miles in advance of portable traffic sensor equipment used to detect the speed of vehicles in advance of the work zone. The PCMS provided messages to drivers saying, “CAUTION SLOW TRAFFIC”/”X MILES AHEAD” when speed was detected to be 25 MPH to 55 MPH, and “CAUTION STOPPED TRAFFIC”/”X MILES AHEAD” when speeds were detected to be 25 MPH or below. The speed limit of the road is 70 MPH under normal conditions.
The SWZ development for this project also included writing the specification for the equipment needed to communicate to the drivers in advance. The specification was written to ensure the devices would not only communicate with the advanced PCMS boards but would also provide alerts to Navigational applications like Waze and Google Maps, which in turn can provide drivers with an alternative route. SWZs provide an advantage over traditional work zone signage in the increased safety for both workers and motorists due to their real-time communication with motorists. SWZs can be an instrumental tool in helping meet the goals of Vision Zero.