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Construction Zones (a modest proposal) - Phil's Rambling Rants — LiveJournal
June 8th, 2004
01:30 pm


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Construction Zones (a modest proposal)
My mom and I had a discussion/mutual rant about construction zones in the car on the way home from DucKon, inspired by the legislature's recent OKing of speed cameras and by my blood pressure increase from seeing the "injure or kill a worker, 14 years in jail" signs.

The problem, we reaffirmed to each other, is that there are so seldom actually any workers around when we encounter orange barrels, lane closures, and threatening signs on the highway that we all get used to ignoring them, so that we're surprised to realize that there's actually someone working there when we fly by at 70 MPH. If they only told us to slow down when there was actually a reason to, it seems reasonable that enough people actually would that those who didn't could actually be a real enforcement target. Of course, they haven't tried that; every time someone gets worked up over a highway worker getting killed, they make the construction zones bigger, longer, and stupider, decreasing the chance that any given mile of marked zone has anyone working in it and increasing the pressure to ignore the signs.

My simple proposal, then: The contractors doing the work on the highways aren't allowed to own any warning signs, orange barrels, or such-like. They have to rent them from the state, by the day, on every one they actually use. Something like orange barrels are $1/day, and signs are $.25/ft2/day. In short, a direct and significant financial incentive to the construction companies to only disrupt traffic where they actually need to.

Anyone care to take a pot-shot at this?

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[User Picture]
Date:June 9th, 2004 06:32 pm (UTC)
In florida they almost always rent them, and the place that's got a monopoly on the whole deal is Bob's Barricades.

My mom used to work for a contractor in Illinois, and they had to rent all their barricades. It would be cost-prohibitive for them to actually own and store all their barricades. It was much cheaper to rent and not worry about storage when not in use.

But they were a small-time contractor. Larger companies *might* own their own, but i bet they rent them as well.

Also, just because you don't see the workers doesn't mean it's not an active work-site. Usually, if there are barricades and no workers, the reason for that is because either the construction is in a high-traffic area and construction is usually done at night, or the weather is prohibiting work. (And, if you are driving late at night, and see an abandoned work site, it's probably being worked on during the day.) It's very expensive for construction companies to set up a work site and have no one working them. i can certainly appreciate that many sites appear abandoned. But i guarantee, if you see barricades and warning signs, it's an active work site and there are workers assigned to the job.

Example: there's a stretch of I97 here that i drive every day which has an overpass being worked on. When i drive to work at 5pm, there's NO workers in sight, and plenty of barricades lining the street. When i drive home at 3am, the highway is down to one lane (from three) and there's workers all over the place. If they were to try this during the day, no one would be able to get to or from Baltimore and Annapolis. This is basically the only highway connecting the two cities, and a MAJOR artery. To have four lanes shut down while the bulk of traffic is using the road would cause a lot more problems than working when no one notices.

This doesn't account for all construction sites, but 98% of the time if you see a "work zone" sign, it's a genuine work zone.
[User Picture]
Date:June 9th, 2004 09:40 pm (UTC)
The point is not to rent them from a company that makes money by renting them, the point is to charge for having them actually in use sitting on the road. Bob's Barricades wouldn't charge less for orange barrels that you put back in the truck than for ones still blocking a lane of the highway, as long as Bob can't give them out to the next guy, they're still "in use" from a business point of view.

When there is a work zone sign, it is true that there almost always is some work somewhere around, but it is very likely that the actual work is miles away, or next week, or last week. For instance, in my observation it is standard practice, if the project is do do some kind of maintenance on say 10 miles of the interstate, to first put up barrels and signs and block off one lane on both halves of the highway through the whole 10 miles. Then the crew works its way through the job, actually working on a 1-mile stretch of one side of the road until they finish the whole job, and then they clean up all of the barrels and signs. They do it this way because it's slightly easier for them to do that than to keep shifting the signs and barrels around, and there is absolutely no incentive for them to minimize the disruption to the traffic.

The case you point out where they're working at 3 AM because if they did the work during the day there would be a huge riot is another example. Note that (a) this only happens in big cities where traffic would literally back up for hours if they didn't; they don't bother in less populated areas where doing the work during the day only backs up traffic for 15 minutes (but I happen to think that a fifteen minute backup, or even a one minute backup, that I have to drive through every day is worth being annoyed about); and (b) when they have a site like you describe where they're only working in the middle of the night, in most cases there is still a reduced speed limit during the day (and a billion signs saying that you should slow down to protect the workers), even though there are no workers to protect. They open up the lanes, so the traffic can get through, but they leave the signs, which gets people used to the idea that the signs don't mean anything.
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