Roadway Buffer Zone & Clear Zone Guide

Buffer Zones Help Keep Motorists & Workers Safe

America’s roadway system is one of the most expansive transportation networks in the world. Stretching from coast to coast, America’s collection of interstate highways and city roads provide a convenient and reliable way to travel long distances in a short time.
U.S. roadway stats
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Roads play a central role in America’s economy, and maintaining roadways is a vital part of national importance. Rain or shine, winter or summer, road maintenance crews are tasked with ensuring people can travel to work, and companies can ship goods and services on America’s roadways. One of the hardest parts to keep America’s roadways working as efficiently as possible is how to manage ongoing maintenance projects while disrupting traffic patterns as little as possible. It’s not an option to close down an entire road or highway to complete required maintenance, so road crews and engineers need to find a way to maximize work crews and motorists’ safety while also minimizing disruption to travel time and operations. Motorist-worker accidents occur when oncoming traffic gets too close to work zones, and these types of accidents result in serious injuries or death to the road worker and motorists. To help reduce accidents, many work zone managers use buffer spaces to improve motorists’ safety and work for crews in a work zone with oncoming traffic nearby.

What Is A Buffer Space?

Buffer space is an area that separates oncoming traffic from a workspace or other unsafe areas.
roadwork buffer zone
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This space is meant to provide drivers enough time and space to correct their vehicle if they start to move towards the work zone. Buffer space plays an important role to keep construction crews and drivers safe and efficient. Here are a few key points to remember about buffer zones:
  • Additional Space: Buffer zones provide space for errant vehicles to stop or recover without entering a dedicated work zone.
  • Clearly Marked: Buffer zones must be clearly marked with traffic cones, traffic signs, and other markers to warn drivers about potential hazards.
  • Clear Of Equipment: Buffer spaces must remain clear of equipment and other obstructions.
While buffer zones provide space for drivers to correct vehicles, this area also offers workers additional safety if they wander out of the work zone. This area also reduces the chance that a piece of heavy equipment will hit a passing vehicle should the swing radius exceed the worksite’s boundaries. Like a clear zone, buffer spaces should be maintained to enhance a driver’s ability to correct their vehicle should it veer toward the work zone. This means a buffer space should not have any equipment in it, no pavement drop-offs, and should be as flat as possible with no steep slopes or other obstructions. Buffer zones should be marked with traffic cones and signs leading up to the work zone to provide ample visibility and warning to oncoming traffic. Buffer spaces help keep drivers and workers safe by offering additional room to maneuver and distance between their respective operating areas. Still, no amount of buffer zone can deem a location “safe.”
roadway construction buffer space
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Research shows there is a relationship between the amount of buffer space between work zones and traffic and reduced likelihood of an accident, but worksite planners need to consider impacts to road capacity and how buffer zones could impact operations in the area.

Barriers Along With Buffer Spaces

Agencies may choose to use lateral barriers to help shield work crews from hazards when large buffer zones are not an option. These barriers physically separate oncoming traffic from worksites, and they can help workers complete maintenance tasks more efficiently. Planners need to consider the type of barrier, traffic speed, and barrier deflection when placing barriers around a work zone. This is because barriers can impose additional hazards to other drivers if a vehicle hits a barrier and enters oncoming traffic. This is why barriers like water-filled Jersey Barriers are used to deflect errant cars in a controlled manner. Barriers must also be placed a sufficient distance leading up to and after the work zone to provide ample protection to workers and motorists.

Keeping American Roadways Open

The U.S. economy relies on keeping our roadways accessible and open throughout the year. Consumers need to have reliable transportation options to travel to home and work, and companies need to open roads to deliver goods to grocery stores. This means that work zone planners need to find ways to maximize traffic flow in areas where maintenance occurs while also minimizing risk to work crews and motorists. This is no easy feat, but buffer zones and barriers provide a great solution to keep America’s roads maintained and traffic moving as usual.