Why the miles and miles long work zones?

I was going to open up a Pit thread, but then I thought that there -might- be a valid reason for it.

Why do we sometimes encounter Interstate “work” zones, the ones that stretch for miles and miles, with apparently no work being done in that area?
Workers need to be protected. I am all for that. But I can’t see how having the barrels or pylons stretching on for 5 or 10 miles past where the workers actually are, is protecting the workers.

I have seen CalTrans do this for:

  1. painting lane markings (or laying down the reflective markers),
  2. for bush and tree trimming,
  3. cleaning the cement highway dividers,
  4. replacing old and dented looking metal guard rails,
  5. replacing the signs (milemarkers, exit signs, etc,),

on multimile sections of highway.

Just off the top of my head.

Also: Even if a work crew is working on a small section of road (replacing a single light pole, for example), they may decide to place a couple miles of cone out. On some sections of highway, people drive really really fast, and there may be sections of the highway were you cannot see that far ahead, due to buildings, trees, hills, etc. You don’t want someone who is doing 80 to get surprised and have to make an abrupt lane change when they are within 100 yards of the work crew. If they can’t make it for whatever reason, they plow right into the crew. Set out 2 or 3 miles of cone, and now those speed racers have more of a margin for error without hurting anyone.

What about when the entire work zone is cordoned off for months at a time, though?

The contract (if a private company) or work order (if a DOT division) calls for the resurfacing or repavement of, e.g., 3.4 miles of Interstate 999, between the North Metropolis exit and the Peaudunque County line. This is the area they’re working on; this is the area closed to traffic by cones. The crew may at the moment you come through be working on the specific 150-foot stretch 1.1 miles north of the start of the work area. Some pavement north of it has been abraded to better “weld” the new surface to the old; pavement south of it has been resurfaced and is “curing.” And some they haven’t got to yet, but have coned off for when they do get there in two or three days.

If they’re repaving, they may have to take the top coat completely off, leaving the gravel-stabilized-with-tar subsurface in place – and they don’t want you, or that 12-ton tractor-trailer you passed five miles back, digging it up before they can put a new top layer on it. And abrading the top coat away, making any needed repairs to subcoat (or sometimes replacing subcoat as well), and then putting a new top coat on and letting it cure, can take in excess of a month. Especially if they hit a rainy spell when a given pending part of the work can’t be done and have the results long-term reliable, in the middle of the process.

Some bad drivers need A LOT of warning. :smiley:

In all seriousness - there may be survey crews that need to access the ares, or trucks may need the area for maneuvering/queing up loads. Just a couple of possibilities.

Traffic fines are double in work zones and tickets generate revenue.

We should put an orange cone and a work zone sign right next to every “Welcome to This State” sign. Hell, the entire state is now a work zone.

cha ching! :wink:

A1: As said above, particularly with high-speed or low-visibility areas, there can be a ginormous lead-in zone to set up the lane shift. And yes, there are standards for this sort of thing. No, you don’t want to be the focus of some investigation for why the standards weren’t followed.

A2: The entire project is two miles long, but the crew can only work on repairing 50 feet of barrier at a time. Still, might as well set up the traffic control for the entire limits. First, it saves a lot of time and effort from all the time having to reposition the cones. Second, the local traffic gets used to the traffic control in place, rather than having to all the time get used to some new configuration. No, figuring out how to drive through a lane shift is not all that difficult, but let’s not overestimate the typical driver. Seriously, it’s safer that way.

A3: Possibly the project calls for actual work to be done during night-time or low-traffic periods, to prevent gawkers-block.

A4: The steel mill has promised the next shipment of railing any day now. Either before or after the holidays, the next storm, the next labor work action - et cetera.

A5: No, I can’t figure it out myself all the time.

I was going to post and ask about this myself. I drove through a mile or so of cones, past one maybe two exits, ending with two trucks and maybe 4 guys doing some work. This was mostly underground in the Ted Willimas Tunnel in Boston leading to the airport. It started in the tunnel before that one (not sure what it’s called - the Fort Point Channel Tunnel?)

This was not a resurfacing on the road itself or anything like that that I could see. It looked like maybe they were working on some of the mechanical stuff hanging off the wall and ceiling.

But I’ve seen this before on the Mass Turnpike also - miles of cones and little or even no work being done.

If road or roadside work is needed for long distance stretches, the time/cost involved in setting up the traffic control devices for the lane closure precludes setting up for a short distance, then moving it downstream again and again. On freeways, the traffic speeds are so high that there is inherent danger to the workers and objectionable delay to motorists if they have to merge around numerous shorter work zone spot lane closures. Full closure of the lane solve those problems. There may be unobservable problems in the closed lane such as fresh tar or paint or there may be work needed or being done on the expansion joints at bridge structures or on their underdecking.

In some and perhaps all states, the doubling of fines for speeding in work zones is not automatic. There has to be an ordinance legalizing that in each case and the signs stating that penalty have to be posted.

The USA federal requirements for type and application of devices for such work can be seen at http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/htm/2003r1r2/part6/part6-toc.htm

There’s a lot of that here too. I’ve complained to our local council about roadworks with 5km worth of cones and 40km/h speed limits, and with little or no work being done.

I’m still waiting for a response from them.

Pit worthy
I once spent over an hour on I-5 south of Tacoma in stop and go one Sunday night because it was down to one lane for over a mile.
Not only was there no work being done -THERE WERE NO WORKERS OR TRUCKS EITHER!

Several years ago, I remember a three lane carriageway on an Interstate highway coned down to two lanes, and then to one, and then diverted to the shoulder. A mile past the point where everything was squeezed into the shoulder was the “work” - a lone man welding a guardrail.

EDIT: It was the Youngmann Expressway (I-290) north of Buffalo.

More frequently, I’ll see what must be the deliberate placement of cones deep into the oncoming traffic lane. Cones will usually be lined up neatly in a row, with a remaining traffic path that is already quite narrow, and then OH SHIT THAT ONE IS THREE FEET TO THE RIGHT I’M GONNA HIT IT

A variant on the work zone question: a couple of years ago, one of the expressways that led to where I used to work was being reconstructed. Of course, the cones were in place, and traffic was down from three lanes to two. However, every 1000 to 2000 feet or so was a temporary DOT diamond sign that read “CLEAN OUT”. WTF?

Hello to all. This is my first post, so please be gentle.

I worked the highways for 20 years, but certainly don’t consider myself an expert.

When a State contracts with a company to do work on a specified area, that company takes over that area for the duration of the contract. That company must adhere to several safety standards as part of the contract, and one of those standards is proper construction markings (See link in above post).

Most contractors sub out this portion of the job to companies who specialize in marking highway construction zones. This subcontractor usually brings a full crew out and sets up the entire zone at the start of the project, and then leaves a smaller crew on site to maintain the markings.

Construction usually starts at one end of the zone, and proceeds to the other. Actual construction usually is only taking place in a small part of the zone, although support equipment may be transversing anywhere at any time.

Construction may not operate 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week, and is also sometimes delayed for for things like weather and material suppliers.

What this means is many times you will drive through a zone without work taking place. The speed limits stay reduced and lanes remain closed because it’s too big of job to repeatedly adjust the zone for no activity.

The state and the contractor know the zones cause delays and hassles, but most do the best they can to assure nice roadways.