Introduction and Fundamental Principles


The purpose of work zone traffic control (WZTC) is to provide a safe area for workers within the roadway while facilitating the safe and orderly flow of all road users through the work zone including motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, and persons with disabilities.

This field guide is intended to provide New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) employees, contractors, utility companies, municipalities, and others working within the state right of way, with the basic principles and elements constituting a safe work zone. The information presented in this field guide is based on the requirements set forth in the National Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and the NYS Supplement, as well as discussions with members of the NYSDOT Work Zone Safety Working Group.

Included is basic information on work zone traffic control devices, illustrations of acceptable commonly used devices, and proper flagger attire and methods. Referenced Standard Sheets are intended to show the minimum requirements for work zone set-ups for maintenance and construction activities for common situations. Temporary traffic control can be enhanced for locations with situations that may warrant additional measures, such as high vehicular or pedestrian traffic volume, high operating speeds, restricted sight distance, or confusing alignment. The existing Standard Sheets are not intended to cover every possible situation.


Common Fieldwork

Many Department and consultant workers occasionally perform job duties in the field which do not warrant a lane or shoulder closure, or any other type of temporary traffic control, because the normal function of the roadway is not suspended. Examples include some duties performed by bridge inspectors, highway designers, real estate specialists, permit engineers, and others who may primarily work in an office setting but occasionally work in the field to gather information. In these circumstances, the following guidelines are appropriate:

  • At least two workers should be together when performing fieldwork.
  • Anyone working within the highway right-of-way shall wear high-visibility apparel meeting current ANSI Class II or Class III standards, and a hard hat.
  • When within the right-of-way, workers must be always be aware of traffic and at least one person must face traffic and be a spotter when staff are working in a lane or shoulder.
  • Fieldwork in a lane or shoulder should not occur when visibility is reduced by weather or lack of daylight.
  • Vehicles used for fieldwork shall be equipped with a flashing amber beacon on the roof. The beacon and the vehicle’s four-way flashers shall be turned on anytime the vehicle is on the pavement and not flowing with traffic (i.e., parked or moving slowly on the shoulder or in a travel lane). Vehicles should be parked as far from the travel lane as practical, and off the shoulder if possible.
  • Based on an evaluation of site conditions, a worker may enter a travel lane very briefly, as traffic gaps allow, to gather information if conditions are favorable. Traffic speed, traffic volume, line of sight distances, egress restrictions such as barriers or walls, as well as lane and shoulder widths shall all be taken into consideration. The purpose of this evaluation is to determine if a formal work zone traffic control set-up is needed for a lane or shoulder closure.
  • When site conditions are not conducive for a worker to safely enter the travel lane to gather data, fieldwork shall not commence without proper temporary traffic control in accordance with the Standard Sheets or MUTCD Section 6A as determined by a person knowledgeable about the fundamental principles of temporary traffic control.


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Fundamental Principles

The principles listed below provide a guiding philosophy of good temporary traffic control and enhance the safety of motorists, pedestrians and workers within and near temporary traffic control zones:

  • Make traffic safety and temporary traffic control an integral and high-priority element of every project from planning through design, construction, and maintenance.
  • Select the most appropriate typical application for the worksite. Keep in mind conditions may change as the work / day progresses. Plan to have items and materials ready to meet the changing conditions.
  • Inhibit traffic movement as little as possible.
  • Provide clear and positive guidance to drivers and pedestrians as they approach and travel through the temporary traffic control zone.
  • Inspect traffic control elements routinely and modify when necessary.
  • Pay increased attention to roadside safety near temporary traffic control.  Workers shall maintain situational awareness when working in proximity of traffic. This may include the use of spotters.
  • Immediately address any incidents that occur within the work zone. Activities may include documenting incident, providing a temporary spotter to protect the incident or temporarily suspending the work until the incident can be managed.
  • Train all persons that select, place and maintain temporary traffic control devices.
  • Establish proper legislative authority to implement and enforce needed traffic regulations, speed zoning, parking controls, and incident management.
  • Keep the public well informed.
  • If there is a side road intersection/driveway or ramp within the work area, additional traffic control, such as flaggers and appropriate signs, may be needed on the side road/driveway approaches or ramps.
  • If there is a side road intersection/driveway or ramp within the work area, additional traffic control, such as flaggers and appropriate signs, may be needed on the side road/driveway approaches or ramps.

The Work Zone

The work zone is the distance between the first advance warning sign and the point beyond the work area where traffic is no longer affected.

  • Advance warning area tells traffic what to expect ahead.
  • Transition area moves traffic out of its normal path.
  • The Activity area provides space for the work, traffic, and buffer space and/or protective vehicles between the two.
    • Buffer areas separate traffic from workers and provide a recovery area for errant vehicles. No equipment, vehicles or material shall be placed in this area.
    • Protective vehicle area provides a temporary barrier vehicle and roll-ahead distance for worker safety. If a vehicle is not being used, then the roll-ahead distance is not necessary. No equipment, vehicles or material shall be placed in the roll-ahead distance.
    • Work area is set aside for workers, equipment and material storage.
  • Termination area lets traffic resume normal driving.

Figure 1: Components of a Work Zone Traffic Control Area