Illinois Tollway Mobile Barrier System has Neighbors Looking to Follow Suit
An 83-foot-long portable steel safety barrier used by the Illinois Tollway to shield roadway and emergency workers from fast-moving traffic is catching the eye of drivers—and of transportation officials in other states.
The sheer size and visibility of the bright yellow barrier, which includes a rear electronic message board to alert drivers to road repairs or traffic incidents, encourages drivers to slow down and steer clear of it as they approach, Tollway officials said.
Transportation officials from a variety of agencies also are taking notice, scheduling visits to inspect the two mobile work zone barriers the Tollway has in its inventory to see how the Innovative safety equipment works.
Roadway officials from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and five Wisconsin counties recently traveled to the Tollway’s Rockford maintenance site to learn how and when the Tollway deploys the mobile work zone barriers, which are hauled into place by a semi-tractor to form a protective outer wall that shields workers from passing traffic. Each barrier includes a fold-down, crash barricade mounted on the back of the structure to provide additional protection to workers from rear-end crashes.
After inspecting one of the mobile barrier systems and reviewing with Tollway staff how the agency uses it, Wisconsin officials liked what they saw.
“We want get the input the Tollway can provide based on their experience, which should help us determine the best situations where we could use this barrier,” said Andy Heidtke, statewide work zone design engineer for the Wisconsin DOT.
But he added: “We’d like to get at least one in the state.”
The Tollway purchased the mobile barriers about four years ago to better protect Tollway maintenance staff and emergency responders working on busy roads close to fast-moving traffic where there’s little room for workers—and little margin for error.
Several Wisconsin roadway officials were impressed by the safety benefits the barriers would provide roadway workers.
“From the standpoint of the safety of the workers, it’s invaluable,” said Chris Hardy, highway commissioner of Columbia County in central Wisconsin, which maintains portions of I-90, I-94 and I-39. “The issue for us is the logistics of when and where you deploy it.”
Tollway staff move the two barriers owned by the agency around its 294-mile system, typically using each one about 20 hours weekly to create a safe work zone for a variety of tasks, including pavement repairs, rolling lane closures, roadway lighting work and assisting contractors with maintenance of traffic in work zone.
Illinois State Police District 15 troopers also employ the barriers during accident reconstructions and to aid in the recovery of damaged vehicles in the event of a major crash.
Each barrier carries extra lighting and a generator to help illuminate work zones or crash scenes to assist workers and emergency responders.
Working behind the mobile barrier, crews are less distracted and can frequently can reopen lanes faster, minimizing the impact of repairs and crashes for drivers, said Steve Mednis, general manager of traffic and incident management.
“These structures are a great fit for us because we can shift them around as needed to protect our workers as they maintain our roads, clear accident scenes and assist our customers,” Mednis said. “They help us work more efficiently and safely.”