Night Work: New York City Highway Construction Expert Article

In this article, Civil Engineer, Highway & Bridge Engineering Expert, Michael Tuttman, P.E. discusses the unique challenges involved in performing construction projects in a busy metropolitan area with a complex infrastructure. New York City and the surrounding Metropolitan area include more than 6,000 miles of roadways that interconnect via an overlapping system of bridges and tunnels. The engineers at Robson Forensic regularly provide expert witness investigations involving construction claims and injuries.

night work nyc highway construction expert

Night Work: New York City Highway Construction - Expert Article

Construction Challenges & Safety

New York City’s comprehensive transportation and utility systems are both complex and extensive. Electrical, communication, water services, sanitary sewer systems, and tunnels are all buried within local streets at various elevations. Highways through the city are constructed on grade, on viaducts, overpass bridges, and underpass roadways. Some roadways, such as parkways, allow only passenger cars while others allow all types of vehicles, due to factors such as low bridges with vehicle height restriction. These complex systems pose unique and difficult challenges when maintenance, repairs and reconstruction work are required.

There are over 2,000 bridges and tunnels in New York City. The bridges consist of many lengths and types carrying vehicular, bicycle, pedestrian and subway traffic. These structures are owned and operated by several agencies including the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT), the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PATH). Other owners in the region include the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (NJTA), New Jersey Transit (NJT), and the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT). Each of these entities has their own construction and specification requirements.

Night Time Construction Work

Figure 1: Night Time Construction Work

Beneath local streets lies a maze of electricity, water, sewer, gas, steam and telecommunication networks. Some of these systems are more than a century old, and are in need of constant maintenance, repair and/or replacement. Coordinating repairs to these networks while providing pedestrians, drivers and cyclists with access can be a complex endeavor. In order to minimize the impact of road construction on the travelling public, much of the work is performed at night or on weekends, when traffic demand is lighter.

Working on city highways and streets has its inherent dangers, and these dangers are magnified when performing work at night. There are unique dangers present to both the construction workers and the traveling public. The night time driving environment, consisting of roadway illumination, signs, vehicle lighting and markers, traffic delineation, and flashing lights can be distracting and confusing for pedestrians and drivers. Night time construction contributes to these distracting stimuli with the added presence of workers, construction equipment, and bright, sometimes flashing lights.

Lighting systems used in work zones must be bright enough to provide visibility for workers. Prior to the start of any night time construction operations, a lighting plan should be developed that provides the desired work site illumination while at the same time preventing glare that can reduce visibility to motorists and to workers. Excessive glare could contribute to visual clutter and may create a dangerous condition for drivers and workers alike.

Illumination from work zone lighting systems is non uniform, resulting in some portions of the work zone with high light levels adjacent to others in near darkness. The use of delineation, pavement markings, channelization devices and warning lights helps identify the presence of lane changes, equipment, and other potential hazards. Signage provides additional instruction for safe navigation in and around work zones. In an urban roadway location, it can be a challenge to coordinate these diverse components of the work zone traffic control visibility system so that they work together to provide unambiguous visual information.

The use of devices such as temporary concrete barriers, attenuator trucks, Type III barricades, and traffic barrels and cones help with channeling traffic into the desired work zone configuration while maximizing protection of workers. These devices may be used independently or together based on traffic volumes, travel speeds, and location of the work zone.

Working at night creates additional hazards to the inherent dangers of construction work. Not only do workers have limited visibility, but motorists do as well. Properly designed work zone lighting contributes to worker safety, the safety of drivers and other road users, work quality, productivity, and worker morale. Conversely, poorly-designed work zone lighting can create situations that are hazardous for workers, drivers, and other road users. Night time reduced traffic flow frequently results in increased travel speeds. This needs to be taken into account when designing work zone traffic control for night work.

In order to improve visibility to motorists, workers should wear Level D personal protective equipment (PPE) that includes safety vests and hard hats with reflective striping in addition to any other PPE that may be required to perform job functions safely. Workers should be properly trained on the nuances of working at night in an urban environment and how to perform job functions with limited visibility. Tool box talks should be held prior to the start of each work operation to go over the potential hazards of the work involved. It is important for workers to be aware of the differences in night vs. day work operations for the benefit of themselves, their co-workers, and the traveling public.

Construction Safety Investigations

The Construction experts at Robson Forensic are degreed civil engineers with decades of hands-on construction experience, training, and education. Construction is statistically one of the most dangerous industries. The orchestration of multiple, concurrent, tasks on a single site requires professional management and strict attention to safety standards. By working at every level within the industry, our experts have done the work central to your case and can testify regarding the hazards, risks, and responsibilities in the construction industry.

For more information, submit an inquiry or contact the author of this article.

Featured Expert

Michael J. Tuttman, Civil Engineer, Highway & Bridge Engineering Expert

Michael J. Tuttman, P.E.

Civil Engineer, Highway & Bridge Engineering Expert
Michael has more than 25 years of engineering and design experience in a diverse group of civil engineering disciplines including transportation design, heavy construction, design-build projects,… read more.


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