August 26, 2011
ONTARIO MINISTRY OF TRANSPORTATION
FEATURE | Roadbuilding
Ontario transportation ministry uses temporary barriers to protect highway construction workers
A new mobile work zone barrier system that quickly deploys to protect roadbuilding crews has proven effective on several Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) contracts.
The wheeled barrier system, manufactured by Mobile Barriers LLC of Colorado, is transported into place by a standard truck tractor, and can be expanded from its 13-metre length to 31 metres by inserting additional protective panels.
The system was championed by Ted Phillips, geotechnical engineering supervisor of MTO’s Eastern Region, after he attended a presentation on the technology at the 2010 meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Washington, DC. The barriers have been used in California since 2004.
The first MTO trial for the system was a concrete repair contract on Highway 115, a four-lane highway southwest of Peterborough, Ont. in the summer of 2010.
“We’d split the Highway 115 concrete work into smaller contracts over several years, and each year we protected the work zone with Temporary Concrete Barriers (TCBs),” says Darren Waters, senior project engineer, Eastern Region. “It looked like a good opportunity to allow for the use of a mobile barrier in one of the contracts.”
The contract was advertised with two options, one using TCBs for all concrete repairs, and a second using TCBs for full-depth repairs and a mobile barrier for partial depth repairs. Brennan Paving Limited, a subsidiary of The Miller Group, successfully bid on the second option. Powell Contracting Limited, which specializes in mobile road barriers, provided worker protection on the contract.
The units cost between $250,000 and $450,000 depending on how they’re outfitted. However, Powell leased a unit for the first year from distributor Impact Absorption of New York City.
“I’d seen the units at the American Traffic Safety Services Association trade show a couple of years running and had considered bringing up one of the barriers,” says Bill Powell Jr., president, Powell Contracting Limited. “We’d then heard that MTO was also interested in it. It gives you the protection of a concrete barrier with the mobility of a crash truck. When you deploy a concrete barrier, it continues to sit there for the length of the contract, and you often need to reconfigure the lanes. With the mobile unit it gives us the ability to do short-term lane closures, for example at night, and have the lanes open for use during the day. Its operation is very straightforward — like a standard length tractor-trailer. The only training required was on how to insert the barrier wall sections.”
Use of the mobile barrier not only advanced the work schedule on the project significantly, but a change proposal submitted by the lead contractor to use the mobile unit exclusively for the remainder of the project reduced overall costs by $80,000.
“The primary cost saving was in time eliminated in setting up and removing TCBs, because the mobile unit can be set up in minutes,” says Tyler Graham, contract services administrator, Eastern Region. “It was also much safer for workers. Any time you’re setting up or tearing down TCBs, workers are still at risk. With this unit, the risk was virtually nil. When you’re standing on a live lane, there’s a fair amount of backwash and a certain amount of insecurity for workers, but once the mobile barrier was put into place it’s a tall and substantial structure and the workers felt very comfortable working behind it.”
The mobile unit has a traditional energy attenuator in back, so it looks like a normal crash truck to approaching drivers, Tyler notes. The height of the barrier also discourages traffic slowdowns often caused by rubberneckers.
Powell has since purchased three mobile barriers outright, and used them on two 401 contracts, one in London and the other in Chatham. A mobile barrier will also be used on an expansion joint contract on the QEW at the Burlington Skyway.
The success of the mobile barriers has attracted attention beyond roadbuilding applications, notes MTO spokesperson Brandy Duhaime. “The Ontario Provincial Police are looking at opportunities to use the system for roadside blitzes and checks and even for collision scene investigations,” she says.
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