The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s Smart Work Zone system capabilities have expanded to meet the safety needs of an Albemarle County work zone deployed at the roundabout intersection of Route 151 and Route 250 in November.

“This is a great collaboration opportunity between the institute and the Virginia Department of Transportation,” said Jean Paul Talledo Vilela, senior research associate at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). “We added a new sensor fusion technology based on radar and cameras to detect speeding vehicles and provide enough warning time for workers to move to a safe location. The goal of using this enhanced technology is to save more lives by making work zones safer.”

Previously deployed in Wise County and in the Northern Virginia area, the Smart Work Zone system includes wearable smart vests for construction workers that accurately transmits their GPS position and predicts potential hazards from passing motorists. A mobile base station then broadcasts work zone information to connected vehicles and uses smart cone devices to automatically define work zone boundaries. This extends the wireless communications link between workers and the base station when they are not in its line of sight.

In partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to improve safety of a construction site at an intersection in Albemarle County, VTTI researchers expanded the system by using the new sensor fusion technology. Using 4G/LTE, otherwise known as wireless data transmission-based technology, the expanded system detects speeding vehicles and triggers an air horn to alert roadside workers of vehicles traveling above the speed limit.

The smart vest is the primary alerting system while the newly added air horn is a secondary alert to ensure maximum safety.

The expanded system was installed at the site by placing a sensor approximately 450 feet away from the work zone. When a vehicle moving above the speed limit was detected, the air horn sounded to alert workers of the approaching danger. This trigger provided an additional eight seconds of warning to workers.

“During construction, the project team witnessed three trucks that entered the work zone due to excess speed. One of these trucks nearly caused a fatality and totaled one of the work trucks,” said William Stowe, area construction engineer for VDOT. “Installing VTTI’s Smart Work Zone system is one mitigation measure that we can incorporate to alert workers of speeding vehicles, providing them with valuable and potentially lifesaving seconds to get out of the way.”

The system's expansion was requested by VDOT to ensure that roadside workers remain safe when drivers do not abide by the Move Over law. Enacted in 2002, the law requires drivers to move over if passing stopped vehicles with flashing amber, red, or blue lights.

VTTI and VDOT have collaborated for more than five years on technology improvements for work zone safety, work zone deployment technology, and connected vehicle technology. Institute researchers are working together with VDOT operations personnel to apply these new technologies and address real issues that have an impact on worker safety. The project is funded by VDOT’s Virginia Transportation Research Council who are serving as partners on the design, evaluation, and live testing of the smart work zone system.

Through partnerships like the Virginia Connected Corridors, researchers from VDOT and VTTI are gaining real-time data, such as intersection signal and time data, speed of vehicles, and the impact of travel information messages, that is enabling them to create a more robust smart work zone system that will ultimately save lives.

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