by Chris Collins, Asphalt Project Manager at S.T. Wooten
Smoother roads can mean a smoother and safer ride for drivers. That’s the scenario our team at S.T. Wooten set out to create last summer when working to re-pave a busy 10.8 mile stretch of U.S. Route 64 between Zebulon and Rocky Mount in North Carolina.
Open-graded friction course (OGFC) was used on the project to help improve tire-grip and reduce vehicles hydroplaning or skidding out of control. The laydown included the milling of existing pavement at a height of 2.5 inches followed by the placement of a surface mix and the OFGC. A high percentage of reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) and recycled asphalt shingles (RAS) were incorporated into the mixes.
Executed in just two months, the finished project is helping to facilitate a better overall experience for drivers on the road. It even received a Quality in Construction (QIC) award from the National Asphalt Pavement Association for “excellence in construction of an asphalt pavement” and it’s in contention for the organization’s prestigious Sheldon G. Hayes Award.
However, that’s not to say we didn’t face our challenges along the way. Heavy traffic was something we had to deal with strategically and proactively for the safety of the public and our crews.
Safety is never understated
While rush-hour road congestion posed the biggest obstacle for us during construction on U.S. Route 64, traffic management was a constant concern. Objectives for safety and liability are always amplified when working crews are in close proximity to the busy driving public. As our Health & Safety Manager Giovanny Morales points out, it takes commitment and careful planning to achieve high safety levels on road construction projects.
“Preparing a road work zone is much like prepping for a storm; you can’t predict what is going to happen at the site at any given time. Because people’s safety is at stake, for both the general public and working crews, it’s that much more important to be detailed in preparation to keep the site secure and eliminate risk factors that can come with high volumes of traffic,” said Morales.
Seven steps for safety
Every road-paving project is different, but commitment to safety and liability should be consistent. Outlined below are some practical steps our teams took to secure the U.S. Route 64 work zone based on the best practices we aim to implement across each road construction project we touch.
- Tap well-trained staff: First and foremost, our field staff and supervisors came in with the expertise needed to install a safe work zone. These staff members each go through a vigorous process for training and certification to ensure they’re well equipped to prepare for these types of environments.
- Follow the rules: Our team was careful to ensure we took safety precautions for the work zone based on the contract for the project and NCDOT specifications. These guidelines provide a good roadmap for the installation of advanced warning signs that alert the public of the work zone, and provide information on traffic patterns and lane closures.
- Take things personally: While it’s important to follow standard safety precautions, we always strive to put a personal touch on preparation. By taking a step back and asking ourselves if we’re confident that a significant other or loved one could navigate the area easily and safely, the team assumes an extra level of ownership to ensure everyone’s safety.
- Do daily inspections: As with all our projects, we performed routine drive-throughs of the U.S. Route 64 work zone to keep an eye out for potential safety hazards, while also making sure signage remained set up and spaced accordingly. Conducting regular walk-throughs inside the work zone also helped us be on the lookout for potential safety hazards workers or drivers might encounter on the job site.
- Stay alert with teamwork: With so much traffic coming through on the busy highway, onsite workers had to be extra attentive – both for themselves and the other crew members. With ongoing risk factors like distracted driving, it is always important for crews to keep their eyes open, communicate with each other and maintain a safe distance from vehicles on the roads.
- Keep traffic under control: In addition to planning and ongoing maintenance surrounding the job site, working closely with local law enforcement played a major role in traffic control. Leveraging police presence strategically in the roadwork area can often serve as both a warning signal for drivers and deterrent for speeding.
- Document everything: We aim to do things the right way at all times and this project was no different. As part of that commitment, we look to document our progress in detail with plenty of photos and videos of the site when possible and our progress on construction. Like an insurance policy, it helps ensure we have back up in case an accident or other issues were to occur in the area.
Driving ongoing success
Work zones in high-traffic areas can be dangerous to both construction workers and the public if they’re not properly secured. To avoid the hazards that might arise, road construction teams can create a plan of action and take necessary steps like those above to safely secure and maintain their work zones. With a proper plan that’s designed and deployed by well-trained staff, teams and crews can ensure they are prepared to handle what might come their way on the roads.
Though the driving public isn’t always happy about work zones, they reap the ultimate rewards from the all the hard work. The benefits typically outweigh the public inconvenience in the long run; especially when construction practices and procedures are weaved with a tight web of safety. A commitment to protecting the community and our individual employees helped us get the job done right on U.S. Route 64. And, we’re happy to say that travelers will enjoy a smoother ride through the area for years to come.