Daily Dirt

National Work Zone Awareness Week 2009

In 2007, 835 workers and motorists were killed in highway work zones and more than 40,000 were injured. Eighty-five percent of those killed in work zones are drivers or their passengers.

The message for motorists during last week’s National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW) 2009, was “Drive to Survive — Our Future is Riding on It!

The tenth annual NWZAW was observed by supporters from coast to coast, including the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA), American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Maryland State Highway Administration (MDSHA) and the District of Columbia Department of Transportation.

The campaign, conducted at the start of the construction season to attract public attention to the importance of driving carefully through highway construction and repair sites, was created in 1999 when FHWA, ATSSA, and AASHTO signed a Memorandum of Agreement pledging to increase public awareness of work zone safety issues through a national media campaign. From billboard messages to public service announcements to outreach to high school students, the goal of the week is to remind the traveling public how they can help keep everyone in a work zone safe.

NWZAW 2009 kicked off with an event on April 7 near the Boundary Channel Humpback Bridge Replacement Project, which is located at the George Washington Memorial Parkway and I-395 between Washington and Virginia – one of the East Coast’s most congested commuter corridors.

The event drew a significant number of guests from the roadway safety industry, featuring Connie Sorell, VDOT chief of Systems Operations and FHWA’s associate administer for Safety, Joseph S. Toole. Surviving members of the Moser family were the featured guest speakers who told their emotional story of father and husband Rick Moser, a 21-year veteran of the Maryland State Highway Administration, who lost his life in a tragic work zone accident.

“I no longer have a father’s assistance and wisdom to guide me as I transition to young adulthood,” lamented Rachel Moser, whose father Rick was struck and killed while clearing debris from a highway overpass on Interstate 270 in June 2007. She asked: “Who will help me move into my first apartment? Who will celebrate all my independence as only a father can?”

Rachel and her mother Laurie highlighted the safety risks of working in and driving through road construction zones and shared their personal stories about the toll of losing a loved one.

Rachel, a student at Denison University in Ohio, is a two-time recipient of ARTBA’s “Highway Worker Memorial Scholarship.” Established in 1999, the scholarship provides post-high school financial assistance to the children of highway workers who are killed or permanently disabled on the job. More than 60 scholarships have been awarded to worthy students around the country over the past decade.

“Every work zone crash is preventable and we can do better to reduce the number of deaths and injuries. It will require a combination of technologies such as engineering controls, crash attenuators, and positive protection for workers. It will require education and access to information such as that found at the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse. It will require stronger enforcement. It will require us working together,” said Bud Wright, former executive director of the FHWA and chairman of ARTBA’s Traffic Safety Advisory Council.

Work zone fatalities and injuries have fallen over the last ten years. The 17 percent drop in 2007, the most recent year for which data are available, represents the sharpest single-year percentage decline since the week’s inception. This continues a multi-year trend of increasingly safe roads. There were 835 fatalities in 2007, down from 1,004 fatalities in 2006.

“I am encouraged by the decrease in fatalities and injuries,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “With $27 billion in economic recovery funds fueling thousands of highway construction and repair projects nationwide drivers must be more careful than ever.”

Four of every five victims in a work zone crash are motorists, not highway workers as is commonly believed.

Drivers are encouraged to follow these simple rules when driving through a work zone:

  • Slow down
  • Stay alert for changing conditions
  • Avoid distractions, such as text messaging or talking on the phone

You can save lives.

Arizona Department of Transportation Earns “Project Of The Year” Award From APWA

Limiting the impact on drivers during a full closure of Interstate 17 at Carefree Highway (State Route 74) for bridge demolition last year is one reason the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and a team of designers and contractors have been honored with a prestigious award for project excellence.

The Arizona Chapter of the American Public Works Association recently named ADOT as winner of its Public Works Project of the Year award for the reconstruction of the I-17/Carefree Highway interchange. The award will officially be presented by APWA, which represents public agencies, private sector companies and individuals dedicated to providing high quality public works, goods and services, at a ceremony in August.

The Public Works Project of the Year Award
program promotes excellence in the management and administration of public works projects by recognizing the alliance between the managing agency, the consultant/architect/engineer, and the contractor who, working together, complete a project. The award is based on criteria such as construction management techniques, safety performance, community relations and environmental protection.

“We’re very proud of this project, the skilled project team and this award because it affirms ADOT’s commitment to safely completing critical work on time, within budget, and in cooperation with drivers and the community,” said ADOT state engineer Floyd Roehrich.

The $19.6 million project, completed last October (2008), was designed with input from local community members. Drivers are now using a larger, modern I-17 interchange at Carefree Highway that can handle increased volumes of traffic. Traffic signals have replaced old stop signs. Drivers of larger vehicles, including those pulling boat trailers, are now able to make left turns without waiting a long time for gaps in traffic. Pulice Construction, Inc., of Phoenix, was the prime contractor on the project. HDR, Inc., of Phoenix, served as the design engineering consultant.

Due to creative construction sequencing, the project was completed on time and without significant disruption to traffic flow. Only one major weekend closure of I-17, to demolish the old Carefree Highway Bridge, occurred during the 17 month duration of the project. The project team was even able to cut the length of that weekend closure in half, limiting the impact on drivers using the major route between Phoenix and northern Arizona.

The project will now be judged against other entries on the national level.

RSC Positioned To Benefit From Rise In Infrastructure Spending

RSC Holdings Inc (RRR), which rents out a full line of heavy construction and industrial equipment, including forklifts, backhoes and cranes, has only limited exposure to the residential housing market and is well-positioned to benefit from a rise in infrastructure spending that could result from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Amid the uncertainty surrounding the economy and the future of the nonresidential construction sector, 38 percent of contractors plan to acquire equipment this year, according to the 2009 Wells Fargo Construction Industry Forecast. The survey—based on more than 900 responses from U.S. construction contracting and equipment distribution companies gathered during October and November 2008—also found more than one-third of equipment buyers plan to expand their fleets, while 61 percent expect to maintain their current fleet size.

RSC Equipment Rental, the second-largest player in the business of supplying heavy equipment to the construction industry, has annual revenue of $1.8 billion. It has one of the safest, newest and best maintained fleets of construction equipment in the industry.

RSC came into its own after a merger between Prime Rental, which focused on the industrial markets and Rental Service Corporation that focused on the construction markets. At this time, the operation was owned by Atlas Copco, and subsequently sold to the interests that now own it. Since becoming an independent rental operation, RSC has remained one of the financially stronger rental organizations in the country. Its business model will position the company to respond quickly and effectively to the rental equipment demands that will be created with the Stimulus Package.

Erik Olsson, the company’s chief executive, said that when demand rebounds, construction companies will prefer to rent rather than buy equipment because credit for purchases will still be tight.

More contractors are in the market for used equipment than at any point in the last decade, according to Wells Fargo Construction.

The survey found:

  • 48 percent of contractors planning to purchase equipment in 2009 will buy only pre-owned equipment
  • 32 percent will buy only new equipment
  • 20 percent will acquire both new and used equipment

This represents a dramatic shift from 2008, when 47 percent planned to buy new and only 20 percent were in the market for used equipment.

Additionally, for the first time in the Wells Fargo Construction survey’s 33-year history, contractors are using equipment that, on average, has been in service for more than a decade.

Although rentals don’t comprise the majority of equipment transactions, the rental industry is gaining momentum. The North American rental industry nets about $32 billion (up from about $9 billion in 1992) and is growing about 7 percent per year.

Currently, about one-third of all equipment is rented in the United States, says Per Ohstrom, vice president of marketing for RSC Equipment Rental, Scottsdale, AZ. That fraction is doubled—or more—in places like Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom, a trend Ohstrom attributes to stricter regulations on energy efficiency. He expects the United States to reverse to one-third owned and two-thirds rented during the next twelve years.

Because a contractor outsources the capital for rented equipment, it doesn’t bear the burden of costs associated with ownership:

  • storage
  • maintenance
  • transportation
  • insurance

According to Barron’s, Morgan Stanley said the stock could more than triple over the next 12 to 18 months to $16.

Bulls like that the company gets more than 60 percent of its sales from rentals tied to maintenance and repairs, up from 35 percent three years ago, Barron’s said.

Greg Sitek

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