Creating Smart Work Zones: Providing Both Safety and Cost Benefits

What makes a work zone smart? By providing Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) elements that have been traditionally deployed along highways into key work zones, you can ease congestion and increase safety of construction projects. Effective application of a Smart Work Zone will accomplish those objectives as well as achieve user satisfaction and cost effectiveness.

For TranSystems, the best approach to developing these types of strategies centers on the ability to anticipate problems. A Smart Work Zone uses technology to increase safety and inform drivers of any disruptions. TranSystems hones that skill by assembling design teams for these types of projects bringing together operations, design and construction experience.

The analysis from this broad range of experts allows for a Smart Work Zone to be tailored to respond to the anticipated situations for a given project, specifically delays, safety issues and public involvement.


A Smart Work Zone reduces congestion and improves safety by providing information to drivers in real-time. Reliable and accurate information can be used by motorists to make smarter decisions when approaching and driving through construction zones. For instance, a travel time through a work zone could be used at key diversion locations to help drivers make informed decisions regarding their route. Alternately, if no diversion routes exist, a queue warning system or dynamic late lane merge system could be implemented to help improve awareness and increase capacity.


A Smart Work Zone design for a rehabilitation project on I-135 in Wichita, Kansas, also proved to be cost effective for the Kansas Department of Transportation. This project included patching, mill and overlay and bridge repairs. A Smart Work Zone was needed to help ease congestion and inform drivers.

The project’s original January 2014 bid was 50 percent over budget, mainly due to work restrictions that would have caused overtime. In April 2014, the project was successfully rebid with a Smart Work Zone while providing better accommodations for contractor work hours and other cost saving measures. The Smart Work Zone was designed to allow for better communication to roadway users, providing quick and accurate information while increasing user delay benefits ultimately saving KDOT costs.

The Smart Work Zone selected was a Travel Time system that would be managed from the Traffic Management Center. This work placed variable message signs on the side roads that allowed users to divert at key locations and use the street network or other routes prior to entering the access controlled freeway. In addition to using existing ITS sensors, the smart technology included five portable cameras, six portable traffic sensors, Bluetooth travel sensors and seven portable variable message signs.

A Smart Work Zone can give drivers information ahead of time, which will increase diversion 10 to 20 percent.



TranSystems uses its extensive experience in highway and bridge construction to outline possible situations, build out solutions, analyze those solutions for deficiencies, and design solutions to mitigate the deficiencies. For example:

Effective Diversion of Traffic. A Smart Work Zone for a construction project on I-235 in Kansas required a diversionary system that identified alternate routes available, specifically to divert drivers to those routes at peak times.

A Smart Work Zone can give drivers information ahead of time, which will increase diversion 10 to 20 percent. TranSystems also developed ways to increase diversion up to 40 percent during certain phases of the project. This involved specifically increasing public information in addition to improving signal timings along key corridors. Just identifying an alternative route isn’t always good enough – drivers will only take the alternative route if it’s notably faster than their regular route through construction.


Every highway construction project will touch the traveling public at some point, and that will mean mitigating capacity and safety issues as vehicles encounter the evolving work zone. A Smart Work Zone can be a valuable strategy in your toolbox to address safety and capacity issues during construction, and if done right, can often lead to large user delay and safety savings.

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