WZDx – A Bold Initiative for the Future of Work Zone Safety 

National Work Zone Awareness Week began in 2000 as a way for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to bring much-needed national attention to motorist and worker safety in the work zone. Next week, April 11 – 15, we’ll observe it once again to broaden and increase that awareness. There is, however, another FHWA program that needs critical attention right now that can help get us closer to a Vision Zero reality: WZDx. 

WZDx is a bold initiative and a crucial part of the future of transportation. Formally, it’s called the Work Zone Data Exchange and if you’re not aware of it, you may be missing one of the most fundamental building blocks of a successful road management strategy. 

We can all agree that moving forward, our industry will be about safety, connectivity, efficiency, economy, and the environment. As ITS America members and solution providers, our products usually address most of those themes in different ways at different times. WZDx addresses all five at once. That’s why the FHWA WZDx initiative is so important. 

This is America’s first attempt to standardize and share work zone information across the entire nation and it comes with dramatic implications for the connected present and the autonomous future. 

At one.network, we believe that sharing accurate and timely work zone information is critical. We’ve been all-in on WZDx since its early days and as the current co-chair for both the WZDx Work Zone Data Working Group and the Specification Update Subgroup, I’ve had the chance to watch its development from the inside. Because my company provides agencies with real-time work zone, incident, and event mapping software, we’re uniquely positioned to see the advantages of a national strategy and recognize the existing information vacuum it will fill for not only agencies but the traveling public as well. 

Work Zones are dynamic and shift as projects progress. Up until now, the accuracy and completeness of work zone data has been all over the map, if they even made it onto the map in the first place! Often, applications like Google and Waze know more about neighboring jurisdictions than agencies do. It’s a function of priorities and budgets that sometimes force road authorities to be reactive, rather than proactive for the greater good. As a result, public and agency information on detours, road openings, and lane closures often lag, and more than a few times, we’ve seen information that was days behind reality. It’s understandable, but it’s fixable. 

FHWA and the many private and public organizations supporting the cause are now creating WZDx feeds to reflect work zone closures and detours across the nation. The implications for the future of the five characteristics I mentioned at the top of this blog are profound. 

1. Safety – Each year, approximately 800 people die and thousands are injured in work zone crashes. Many of those incidents occur because drivers aren’t aware they are about to encounter a work zone. Enhancing and broadly disseminating information can divert road users away from work zones, reducing unnecessary interactions and saving lives. 

2. Connectivity – Accurate work zone data syndicated to onboard navigation systems will be a baseline expectation as vehicles become more connected, and will be even more crucial in a fully autonomous future. 

3. Efficiency – Arming drivers with the information to manage their own routes and when possible, avoid work zones completely, will reduce congestion and build network efficiency. 

4. Economy – Drivers will save time and gas by avoiding congestion and reducing the number of vehicles in work zones. Agencies could see reduced construction times because of fewer vehicle incursions. 

5. Environment – We’ve all experienced congestion around work zones. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, idling personal vehicles generate a staggering 30 million tons of CO2 every year. 

It’s obvious that WZDx makes sense financially, socially, and ecologically, but I recognize that some agencies have budget constraints or competing priorities that could prevent them from creating their own WZDx feeds. It can be expensive and time-consuming, but there are options – and that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. For example, at one.network, we’re creating free WZDx feeds for any U.S. agency that wants one. There’s no obligation to sample or buy anything because for us, this is a “right side of history” issue. In early January, FHWA approved our feed for agency use, and later that month, the North Carolina’s Department of Transportation accepted our offer and became the first in the nation to provide statewide work zone data to the WZDx Exchange. 

If you represent an agency, please know that whether you build your own WZDx feed or work with an outside resource, you’ll be part of an important initiative to save lives, increase efficiency, and contribute to the CAV future of transportation. I encourage you to get on board because designing the future of mobility comes with great opportunity as well as great responsibility. 

Adam Graham is Chief Product Officer at one.network and Co-Chair, WZDx Work Zone Data Working Group and the Specification Update Subgroup