Wisconsin Department of Transportation

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In This Together workbook - Handling traffic

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Photo of a sign directing motorists to businesses.

Ideally, a contractor can repair or rebuild a road more quickly and less expensively if all traffic is removed during the work. But that is not feasible many times if WisDOT is to maintain access to businesses and minimize the impacts on them or if an adequate detour is not available.

When front access for businesses is critical, WisDOT accommodates traffic in two ways:

  • Under construction but open to traffic. This alternative is used on high-volume highways like the Interstate or multilane roads where one lane can be rebuilt while traffic is restricted on the other, or for resurfacing on low-volume roads where suitable detours are not available and the project can be done one lane at a time with signs or flagging crews.
  • Road closed to through traffic, open to local traffic. "Through traffic" refers to vehicles that do not have an origin or destination inside the work zone.

Detour signs direct through traffic to an alternate route around the work zone. WisDOT strives to keep the detour length to a minimum, making certain the new route is in good condition and capable of safely handling heavy traffic, including trucks. An important consideration is whether travelers can follow the detour easily.

Through traffic drivers who choose to use closed roads are subject to traffic tickets.

"Local traffic" refers to vehicles that do have an origin or destination inside the work zone. This includes but is not limited to residents, customers, business owners, delivery trucks, emergency vehicles and school buses.

When someone needs access in the work zone, we ask them to minimize their use of the road. This can be accomplished by using side roads that intersect closest to the destination.

WisDOT restricts local traffic because the work zone may be filled with trucks, earthmovers and other equipment - all moving in different directions. When local traffic is heavy, the contractor needs to hire flagging crews to direct traffic and prevent collisions between drivers' vehicles and construction equipment. The heavier the traffic, the greater the danger of collisions, delays and increased costs.

While the contractor is required to maintain a safe and adequate path on which local traffic can drive, the roadway may be bumpy, dusty or muddy. Occasionally, the contractor may provide a temporary gravel path adjacent to the construction. Sometimes, the road may be temporarily closed to all traffic and only maintained for emergency vehicles. It may be closed for a few hours or a few days, and WisDOT works hard to keep the time as short as possible. Important deliveries can be scheduled with the contractor and the project manager.

Concrete pavement requires a cure time of three to seven days, depending on the amount of cement in the mixture. If access is given to businesses during this time period, it is necessary to provide a "gap" in the pavement. Such gaps require the paving contractor to stop operations, move the paving machine ahead, and restart the entire operations. The contractor must then fill the gaps at a later date.

Pavement gaps delay project completion, compromise ride quality and increase costs. The paving contractor may approach businesses to help reduce or eliminate the need for paving gaps. For example, businesses may be asked to share gaps. Without paving gaps, contractors can pave nearly a mile a day. With gaps, production can be cut in half or worse. That means overall construction will take longer. The goal of everyone is to get the project completed as quickly as possible at a reasonable cost.

How others did it

Many communities have successfully dealt with construction that closed their main street and required customers to use back streets and entrances.

  • One city aggressively promoted its businesses and encouraged shoppers to park on nearby streets and come on foot, despite the torn up street.
  • Businesses often spruce up their back entrances and erect colorful signs to direct shoppers to off-street parking.
  • In one southeastern community, the local newspaper printed maps showing how to get around the detour. Other newspapers have mapped alternate routes.
  • Additionally, businesses have erected signs for local shoppers while trucks and through traffic followed the official detour route.

Questions about the content of this page, contact:
Office of Public Affairs, opa.exec@dot.wi.gov
Last modified: November 6, 2012

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