PennDOT Clarifies

Tue May 13, 2003 - Northeast Edition
Mark Hoffman

Act 229, Pennsylvania’s new Workzone Safety Act, came under intense scrutiny during the recent Pennsylvania Transportation Industry Spring Conference in Hershey, PA. Arthur H. Breneman, chief of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s (PennDOT) Traffic Engineering & Operations Division, gave a detailed overview of the law and its impact on workers and contractors.

The new guidelines only apply to Pennsylvania roads, but border states and other states may be eyeing similar laws.

The law, prompted by a rash of road deaths, goes way beyond requiring child safety seats or mandating that drivers turn on their headlights when in work zones, said Breneman. The law is designed to improve safety and mobility by:

• Requiring headlights in work zones,

• Requiring signs at the beginning and end of “active work zones,”

• Requiring flashing a white light to indicate when a work zone is active,

• Increasing penalties for moving violations in the “active work zones,” and

• Increasing penalties for unacceptable motor carriers.

The regulations improves traffic mobility by decreasing the length of the work zone lane restrictions and requiring that devices be removed immediately.

The guidelines, which were officially released last month, attempt to clearly explain the responsibilities of the contractor and road crew.

For example, a “work zone” is defined as the area of the highway where construction, maintenance or utility work activities are being conducted, and which should have traffic-control devices installed in accordance with PennDOT regulations.

Breneman said an “active work zone” is just a part of the overall work zone and is defined as the portion where construction, maintenance or utility workers are on the highway or on the shoulder of the highway, adjacent to an open travel lane.

He said it is inactive if no workers are on the roadway or shoulder or workers cannot come in contact with traffic — that is, if all workers are protected by a concrete barrier and no ingress or egress to the work area is through an opening in the barrier.

He said that contractors will have to post three new signs, all of which are readily available through most safety device vendors. They are: “Work Zone, State Law, Turn On Headlights,” “Active Work Zone When Flashing Increased Penalties” and “End Active Work Zone.”

He said that motorists face heavy penalties in “signed” Active Work Zones, including:

• Double fines,

• Eliminated speed tolerances. They can now be cited for 1 mph over the speed limit,

• 15-day license suspension if convicted of traveling 11 mph over speed limit, and

• Up to 5 years additional jail time if convicted of homicide by vehicle.

In addition, he said motorists face a $25 fine for not turning on headlights in a “Work Zone,” but the contractor must have signs up designating it a “Work Zone” for the headlight law to be enforced.

Eric Bugaile, a legislative aide who helped write the law, said that there are no immediate penalties for contractors who do not post proper signage.

However, they run the risk of increased liability in the event of an accident and the loss of PennDOT contracts.

The law applies to all construction, maintenance and utility projects; however, there are exemptions if sign posting or flashing lights would be extremely difficult or counterproductive from a safety perspective. If there are any doubts about posting signs and lights, contractors are urged call the local PennDOT district office.

Breneman went into detail explaining when, how, and where the various signs should be posted.

The “Work Zone — Turn on Headlights” sign, designated as R22-1, is to be the first sign as motorists approach the work zone. Contractors should install it 250 to 1,000 ft. (76.2 to 304.8 m) before the “Active Work Zone” sign. The normal size is 48 by 36 in. (121.9 by 91.4 cm).

The “Active Work Zone When Flashing Sign,” designated as W21-19, is to be installed as close as practical to the beginning of the “active” work zone. It must be installed in advance of any flag person. It is to be 36 or 48 in. square. There may be multiple “active work zones” along a stretch of highway.

The flashing white light should be attached to the “Active Work Zone When Flashing” sign. The light must be turned on and flashing when workers are present. It must be turned off when workers are not present.

PennDOT does not have any designated or approved white flashing lights as yet. Contractors, again, are urged to contact their local PennDOT office about recommended models. They will be listed in upcoming PennDOT Bulletins.

The “End Active Work Zone” sign is designated as W21-20 and must be placed immediately at the end of the active work zone. It should be 36 or 48 in. square. It is not required if an “End Road Work” sign (G20-2a) or an “End Work Area” sign (G20-3) is used at the same location.

By law, the “Active Work Zone” signs are not required to be erected until June 23. But, Breneman suggests that it would not hurt to get them up early to get in the habit of ensuring they are posted and to help familiarize the general public with the new signs.

The Speed display signs are required on some, but not all projects. They are required on interstate highway projects if the project costs exceeds $300,000. They could be signs such as Speed Minder, or they could be regular portable changeable message signs (PCMS) with radar.

Breneman said that contractors are responsible for keeping the work zones as short as possible to avoid long stretches with no work activity.

Contractors also are asked to minimize lane restrictions and remove all traffic control devices (TCDs) as soon as practical after the work is complete.

Breneman offered a bit of good news, saying that the signs and other TCDs are not necessarily required on all jobs. Exemptions are as follows:

• Moving operations (1 mph or faster),

• Job will last less than two hours,

• The speed limit is 25 mph or less,

• The speed limit is 35 mph and TCDs are removed at the end of the day,

• The Average Daily Traffic is less than 1,000 vehicles per day and all TCDs are removed at the end of the day, or

• Work Zone is less than 250 feet in length and all TCDs are removed at the end of the day.

To qualify for an exemption from the signage the work must meet only one or more of the above qualifications, not all. There are some wrinkles, however, especially when it comes to interstate projects or projects near the state line, Breneman warned. He said that if the work begins at the state border, you cannot install the “Work Zone Turn on Headlights” sign in the other state. Instead place it as close to the state line as possible but within the Pennsylvania State Line.

He also said that the Federal Highway Administration objects to the color of the flashing white lights. There is some concern about visibility of the lights currently available. Questions also have arisen about the crashworthiness of the portable sign stands.

Breneman said that not all issues have been resolved, but are expected to be addressed in the near future. Finalized regulations will not be in place until the end of next year.

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