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Good Question: Why Are Construction Zones So Lengthy?

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(credit: CBS) John Lauritsen
John Lauritsen is a reporter from Montevideo, Minn. He joined WCCO-...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – She’s still three years away from getting her driver’s license, but Katie Milton already has a good idea of just how slow she can go.

“There’s a lot of road construction this summer,” she said.

And it got her wondering why so much of the road is affected, when just a small portion is being worked on.

“They typically have it blocked off two to three miles, but they only work on a stretch of about 100 yards, which makes no sense,” Milton said.

But for those doing the work, creating space around a work zone does make sense.

“We look at the speed of the roadway,” MnDOT spokesman Kent Barnard said.

Barnard said he gets asked this question a lot. While worker and driver safety is key, it’s also about giving you enough time to get out of a lane that’s about to close without causing traffic jams.

“We do need to start back beyond so we can channel traffic over when we are taking a lane,” Barnard said.

And on the other end of the project, they have to be able to taper back into traffic.

Whether it’s a project on 694, 35E, or Highway 169, MnDOT follows what’s called the “Minnesota Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.”

“It spells out exactly where the barrels are placed, how far apart they are, and how far they have to go back beyond the work zone,” Barnard said.

It can take hours to set up barrels or barricades for a project. It took half a day just to set up the work zone on the current 694 concrete project. So it’s not cost-effective for most projects to remove the barrels overnight.

“You are looking at doing that time all over again the next day,” Barnard said. “That was probably a 10-hour night for them doing that type of work.”

One thing Barnard wants to assure drivers is when a project is finally done, the open road is all theirs.

“When we are done the roads will be safer, smoother, longer lasting,” Barnard said.

Sometimes you will see orange barrels around an area where no one is working.

That’s often because freshly-poured concrete is still curing and can take up to three days.

Contractors pay for closed lanes by the day, so they to want to move on as soon as possible.

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