Roadside work zones present imminent safety hazards for roadway workers and passing motorists. In 2020, an estimated 102,000 work zone crashes resulted in an estimated 44,000 injuries.

Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) researchers have partnered with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and GeoStabilization International to deploy their full smart work zone technology system May 23-25 in a work zone along U.S. Route 23 in Wise, Virginia. The system works to decrease injuries and fatalities in roadside work zones by providing early detection of threats and quickly informing workers and drivers of dangers.

Designed to protect roadside workers and motorists, the works zone system creates a digital boundary and alerts workers when they approach its edge, keeping them safe from potential hazards.

Originally developed in 2020 through a collaboration between VTTI, VDOT, and the Virginia Transportation Research Council (VTRC), the smart work zone system has been tested on the Virginia Smart Road and in Northern Virginia through partnerships with Audi, VDOT, Qualcomm, American Tower Corporation, and Commsignia.

The institute’s research team received the second place Innovation Award from the American Traffic Safety Services Association at the 2022 Convention & Traffic Expo for its work on the smart work zone technology. Now, the system is being tested in a new area of Virginia.

“The system helps work zone designers create layouts that accurately reflect the guidelines established in VDOT’s Work Area Protection Manual, while facilitating the collection of an accurate digital representation of the work zone,” said Mike Mollenhauer, director of the division of transportation implementation at VTTI. “The standardized digital representation could be distributed to connected and automated vehicles in the future or to third party application providers such as the Waze and Google navigation apps.”

The work zone system includes wearable smart vests that accurately monitor the location of workers and predict potential hazards from passing motorists. A mobile base station broadcasts work zone information to connected vehicles and smart channelizing devices that automatically define work zone boundaries and improve communications reliability between workers and the base station. Smart cones are used to create a boundary by extending the wireless link range for reliable communication to the base station.

The smart work zone can be managed through the Work Zone Builder Application, which allows for designing work zone deployments by using temporary traffic control templates that include placement of appropriate signage, channelizing devices, and other work zone elements.

“VTTI is ahead of the game by supporting cellular vehicle-to-everything connectivity [C-V2X],” said Jean Paul Talledo Vilela, senior research associate at VTTI. “This smart work zone allows messages and alerts to be exchanged with vehicles equipped with similar C-V2X technology when the vehicle is passing a work zone. In return, it is adding another layer of safety for both passing motorists and workers in the roadside work zone through alerts and messages.”

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