Road builders find innovative ways to control rising costs of construction
By Peter Vieveen
The cost of maintaining, rebuilding and expanding U.S. infrastructure continues to rise, delaying the completion of many critical projects. Global increases in fuel prices are the most visible cause of this problem. However, in its list of factors affecting costs in road and highway construction, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration includes the downsizing of workforce, consolidation in the highway industry and shortages of skilled labor in specific areas.
These factors put pressure on government agencies, in turn putting pressure on contractors who bid on their projects, to find new ways to stay within budget. One consideration common to every road and bridge project as well as many building projects is traffic control during construction.
As construction costs spiral, both for equipment and labor, portable traffic signals offer a cost-saving option for traffic control being used by contractors and municipalities across the country.
Portable traffic signals are automated systems that replace human flagmen or traditional temporary traffic signals that are installed in the ground. The cost of portable traffic signals has dropped significantly in the last few years, and new technology makes these traffic signals very quick and easy to set up, often requiring less than 10 minutes.
Powered by batteries and charged by solar panels, portable traffic signals provide unlimited runtime during the construction season. New models are trailer mounted and compact, enabling tandem towing capability.
When fully erected, the upper signal head sits 17 ft. above the roadway, and the lower head sits off the roadway 8 ft. above the ground. The system also comes with a radio remote control, which allows workers to stop and start traffic flow whenever they need to bring trucks into the work zone.
Portable traffic signals provide cost savings for a variety of projects:
• Short-term projects. Contractors who work on regional road construction projects see great cost benefits from using portable traffic signals. Currently, many contractors employ police officers or flagmen to control the traffic on their project sites. Two workers can be paid as much as $50 an hour per person to flag traffic, which adds to the cost of these publicly funded projects.
By using portable traffic signals, contractors can reassign those workers who used to flag traffic, directing these employees to handle other aspects of the project. The reassignment strategy can expedite construction time and combat labor shortages, and police officers can be reallocated to more important duties around the municipality.
• Overnight projects. Contractors and municipalities also see a cost benefit during overnight traffic control situations where traffic has been reduced to one lane. Once a zone is established, it must be maintained. The portable traffic signals operate off of their battery power all night, eliminating the need to pay flagmen.
• Long-term projects. Portable traffic signals not only combat labor costs and save money on short-term and overnight work, but they are significantly less expensive to install than temporary traffic signals, and they are reusable.
Traditional temporary signals require a subcontractor to install wooden poles, run electricity to the site and string up signal heads. This costly process can take several weeks, and at the end of the job, the contractor or municipality does not realize ongoing benefits. Portable signals are quick to set up, and the contractor or municipality can reuse them on future projects.
Portable traffic-control devices have been used for thousands of projects throughout the United States. As more contractors and municipalities become aware of the cost savings associated with portable traffic signals, they will become a mainstay in the road and bridge construction industry.
About the author: Peter Vieveen built the first Remote Controlled Flagman in 1993. He is president of North America Traffic, which is based in Ontario, Canada. To date, the company’s portable traffic-control devices have been used on more than 1,500 projects throughout the United States. North America Traffic’s product line includes eight different models of portable traffic signals and flagging systems to meet specific traffic-control needs.