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Road Workers Are Now Classified as Vulnerable Road Users

Earlier this year, we wrote about the need for road workers to be classified as vulnerable road users (VRUs). The Fund called on the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to broaden its definition and explicitly call out roadway workers as VRUs.

That change is so important because in many areas of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (also called the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law), federal funds are only accessible to state DOTs for infrastructure projects that improve safety for VRUs. Without that classification, construction contractors and state DOTs would have to find other ways to pay for safety measures such as the positive protection roadway workers need to complete highway projects safely.

Now, FHWA has published new Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessment guidance stating for the first time that highway workers on foot in a work zone are VRUs.

“A vulnerable road user is a nonmotorist [and] may include people walking, biking or rolling. Please note that a vulnerable road user includes a highway worker on foot in a work zone.

The VRU Safety Assessment is a new requirement in the Highway Safety Improvement Program under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

LIUNA General President
Terry O’Sullivan

“LIUNA commends Secretary Buttigieg and the Department of Transportation for taking action to rightfully include road workers as vulnerable road users,” said LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “Now when state DOTs conduct safety assessments for infrastructure projects, LIUNA members and all road workers must be on their radar.”

Summarizing New VRU Safety Assessment Guidance

  • All states are required to complete an initial VRU Safety Assessment of fatalities and serious injuries by November 15, 2023 and include it in their Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP).
  • States must use data such as location, elements such as road speed, type of infrastructure (e.g., artery to a major highway), etc. to identify high-risk areas. The guidance specifically notes that work zones can be considered high-risk areas.
  • States must consult with local governments and planning organizations that represent high-risk areas and are encouraged to consult with institutional, advocacy and community groups as well.
  • States are also encouraged to include “innovative projects and strategies” to improve safety for VRUs. The guidance lists “developing a work zone safety and mobility policy” as an example of such a strategy for work zones.

“Because of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, states have new resources to improve safety for vulnerable travelers, make our roads safer and more accessible for all and help move us closer to reaching the ultimate vision of zero fatalities,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

There’s an increased focus on protecting VRUs because approximately 20 percent of road fatalities in 2021 involved these groups. Data from the National Highway Safety Administration shows VRU-related deaths increased 13 percent from 2020.

“This guidance can help States identify what safety issues for those outside of a vehicle need to be addressed and where,” said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack. “It also improves transportation equity by making sure extensive dialogue with relevant stakeholders takes place and the concerns of those most at risk in towns, cities and underserved communities are heard.”

Using New VRU Guidance to Protect LIUNA Members

There are several ways that LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions, LIUNA affiliates and signatory contractors can use the new VRU guidance:

  • Start discussions with state DOTs now to ensure roadway workers are included in their mandatory VRU Safety Assessment before it’s submitted to FHWA.
  • Advocate for strategies and solutions that are proven to protect roadway workers, such as positive protection measures and methods to decrease speeding in work zones (e.g., automated speed cameras, law enforcement). FHWA allows state DOTs to decide which strategies and solutions they use to protect VRUs, so be clear about which measures will work for LIUNA members and which aren’t as effective.
  • Promote innovative traffic control programs such as the use of digital alerting. FHWA is encouraging use of new strategies and state DOTs can seek approval for such programs and find out more on the MUTCD Experimentation

For more information on protecting LIUNA members and other roadway workers in work zones, visit the LHSFNA’s Work Zone Safety page.

[Nick Fox]

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