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Mobile work zones are unique

July 21, 2012
By DAVE WERNER ( , Franklin County Traffic Safety Board

We, as drivers, are familiar with work zones, but we think of them as stationary, like repair of a bridge, or for paving a section of a road. But there are mobile work zones as well, and safety issues and vehicle and traffic laws apply to these also. A good example of a mobile work zone is line painting.

I recently had the opportunity to ride with a state Department of Transportation paint crew, painting lines on two state routes in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties. This paint crew, based in Malone, had safety of both the crew and of the motorist as their number one priority. Much of the safety of a mobile work zone is mandated by the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, often referred to in these weekly traffic safety articles. The manual spells out necessary signage, requirements for and placement of shadow vehicles (vehicles behind the work vehicle to warn motorists of the operation ahead), and appropriate variable message signs.

In the paint operation that I observed, the operation consisted of the paint truck, two shadow vehicles, both with truck-mounted attenuators (that heavy looking device that is mounted behind a work truck to cushion the vehicle should it be struck by a motorist from behind), and a small truck ahead of the paint truck to warn on-coming motorists of the paint operation ahead and to "Stay In Lane." All vehicles were in radio communication at all times.

As previously mentioned, safety is foremost, but a secondary function is to prevent motorists from damaging the wet paint or from getting it on their vehicle by displaying clear "Do Not Pass" signs. However, motorists being as impatient as they are, every effort was made to keep motorist delay at a minimum. This is accomplished by the rear vehicle telling the front vehicle that they need to allow traffic to pass. The paint truck communicates a "good" place to allow vehicles to move into the oncoming lane. Meanwhile, the front vehicle driver gets out and stops oncoming traffic. The rear driver then exits the vehicle, tells the lead driver of the backed up traffic to enter the oncoming lane and pass the work caravan, then keeps the rest of the line of traffic doing the same. As the last vehicle is allowed to pass, the rear driver of the work crew radios to the lead truck driver the color and make of the last vehicle he/she lets pass, and thus the lead truck knows when to allow the oncoming traffic that he stopped to now proceed. All of this goes on while the paint truck continues its approximate 14-mph speed painting lines.

During my day with the crew, I rode with the driver of the paint truck, the driver of the rear-most vehicle, the driver of the lead vehicle and with the operator of the paint application, which is in the rear part of the paint truck. They actually let me "paint" many miles of the white line on the side of the road (fog line). My observations were that this paint crew conducted their work in a very safe manner, were very professional with their interaction with motorists, and were very cognizant of the inconvenience to motorists.

Of interest, DOT has two paint crews in Region 7 - one in Watertown and one in Malone. They each paint well more than 4,000 "line miles" each year. They paint the center yellow lines twice and the white fog lines once. Reflective beads are placed on the lines to make them reflective at night. As motorists, we appreciate roads with well-painted lines, but this comes with a small price - a slight delay should we come upon the paint crew in operation. Isn't it worth it? The next time you come upon this operation, don't complain - the crew will pass you as soon as it is safe to do so.



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