Creating safer work zones with automation

How cloud-based management and speed enforcement systems can save time and lives

With a historic number of transportation projects set to go into construction, automated systems and programs can help DOTs and toll authorities strive to create the safest environments possible for workers and travelers.

New innovations allow departments of transportation and toll authorities to automate work zone management systems and efficiently streamline the task of validating and approving lane closure requests. At the same time, work zone speed enforcement programs can improve driver behavior and create a safer environment for workers. When deployed in tandem, these tools can help DOTs save time and lives.

Reducing speeds and accidents in work zones

Since it launched in 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s work zone speed enforcement pilot program has improved motorists’ behavior and helped protect workers. Since the program began, PennDOT has observed the following improvements:

  • Reduced speeding in work zones by 38%
  • Reduced excessive speeding in work zones by 47%
  • Decreased work zone crashes by 15 to 50%

Early adopters of similar programs include Maryland and Illinois, while multiple other states are considering piloting and deploying automation in work zones.

The program deploys an SUV with front and rear cameras and radar systems to monitor vehicle speeds through work zones. When the speed recorded by both front and back radar systems match and is over the posted limit, the field unit automatically transmits the data and license plate image to a cloud-based database, which channels it to a processing portal. Pennsylvania issues citations when the system clocks vehicles traveling 11 miles or more above the posted speed limit. Rules will vary depending on the state.

Steps to automating

The first step to automating work zones is to secure legislative authority. Once authorization is granted, the following best practices can help determine enforcement locations and quality:

  • Partner with DOT districts to identify potential enforcement sites.
  • Drive, photograph and video the proposed site to verify it has ample shoulders for the SUV and clear sightlines for motorists.
  • After deployment, perform random inspections to ensure the program meets all state requirements.

When implemented correctly, automated speed enforcement programs are effective at influencing motorists’ behavior and creating significantly safer work zones.

Streamlining lane closure scheduling and coordination

To help streamline the processing of lane closure requests and to regulate contractor activity, DOTs are implementing a second safety initiative in tandem with speed enforcement systems.

As the size and scope of surface transportation projects grow, so does the number of contractors and lane closure requests. In one week, a transportation agency may receive as many as 800 requests for roadway access and as many as 1,200 per week during peak construction season. Such a deluge can overwhelm the manual validation and tracking process of each approved request.

By automating their work zone planning and management systems with centralized, cloud-based platforms, teams can efficiently and effectively manage the approval, communications, reporting and auditing of lane closures for large, complex highway projects.

Serving as an online reservation system for contractors, cloud-based platforms streamline the coordination and scheduling of lane closure requests. Each contractor completes an online lane closure request form and clicks submit. The system automatically validates the request against roadway models, timetables, special events and potential conflict criteria. If the request is validated, the system forwards the request for approval and processing based on predetermined workflows.

In addition to automating the validation process, other cost and time-saving features include:

  • Scalability, flexibility and accessibility
  • Roles-based permissions and workflows
  • Access to detailed audit information about each lane closure request
  • A repository of institutional knowledge and project history to reduce risk
  • Automatic flagging of conflicting requests

A process that was once time consuming can now be instantaneous, saving countless hours and freeing up valuable personnel for other important functions. In addition, the automated system also may reduce the number of contractors working with expired or invalid permits, lowering the owner’s liability.

Ensuring safe passage

As larger, more complex highway projects go into construction, work zones are becoming safer through automation. It’s an advancement the industry is embracing. Automated work zone management systems streamline and coordinate the most complex work zone plans, while automated work zone speed enforcement programs modify driver behavior and reduce speeds. Deployed together, these automated solutions can help DOTs and toll authorities provide safe passage through work zones, saving time and lives.


Alex Kavanagh, PMP, PMI-ACP
Technology Section Manager
Digital Transformation Solutions Group
HNTB Corporation

Alex Kavanagh, PMP, PMI-ACP is the technology section manager for the Digital Transformation Solutions Group at HNTB Corporation. In his role, Alex leads the Software and Systems Engineering section, overseeing a team focused on building digital platforms and data-driven solutions for clients.

Alex Kavanagh has more than 20 years of experience in the implementation of information technology solutions related to transportation, infrastructure, planning, design, and operations and maintenance. Alex specializes in the design and implementation of cloud-based systems to ingest, store, and visualize data using various methods. Alex earned his master’s degree from MIT with a specialization in Urban Information Systems and is an Agile Certified Practitioner and Project Management Professional through the Project Management Institute (PMI).


Fernando Mascioli, PE, PTOE
Pennsylvania Department Manager of Traffic and ITS
HNTB Corporation

Fernando Mascioli, PE, PTOE, is an associate vice president and Pennsylvania Traffic and ITS department manager. Fernando brings more than 28 years of project management and specialized design experience to the transportation field.

His experience working for both the private and public clients covers a broad range of activities, including: highway design, traffic signal design, operation and coordination, highway safety improvements, maintenance and protection of traffic, and transportation systems management and operations (TSMO) strategies, including automated work zone speed enforcement.

Fernando has upgraded/designed more than 100 traffic signals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and his experience in managing multifaceted construction projects has resulted in the delivery of more than $400 million in construction contracts throughout his career.  Fernando is active in the American Society of Highway Engineers and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), and he earned a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Villanova University.