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Philadelphia Region Deploys a Big Tool to Protect Workers

December 19, 2022 08:00 AM
By: Brad Rudolph

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​Safety is PennDOT's focus, and it is always thinking of new and innovative ways to keep its road crews better protected while working on state highways. So, when Central Office Fleet Management asked District 6 to pilot a new 110-foot-long mobile barrier truck, Philadelphia County's Maintenance Manager Dan Graham embraced the opportunity.  

When Graham first learned about the mobile barrier, he thought, "Let's give it a try." Anything to make his crews safer.  

The initial plan was to deploy the mobile barrier when crews were working along shoulder areas removing litter and debris and clearing storm drains, but on day one, the barrier was used for an emergency incident. There was an overturned asphalt truck and spill along southbound Interstate 95 at the Philadelphia International Airport Interchange. The crew was able to utilize the new mobile barrier to quickly close seven lanes, which included transition lanes and the shoulder, to prevent vehicles from accessing the roadway so the crash and spill could be cleared.  

The mobile device has a barrier on the one end that faces traffic and built-in work shelves on the other side for crews. Graham said the barrier made the roadway safer for crews when used to divert traffic away from the emergency.  

"The barrier allowed us to close down the lanes, where in the past it would have taken us about six to seven trucks to do the same," said Graham. "That incident allowed us to see that the best use of the device would be during an emergency incident. It worked well to divert traffic." 

Graham suggested that because of the barrier's massive size, counties will need plan accordingly before deploying it tactically. 

"My thoughts for our district are to use it for emergency situations and we can also easily move it to other counties within our district when major incidents occur on interstates." 

Graham said the City of Philadelphia had asked, if necessary, if PennDOT could use the new tool to help close ramps to Interstate 676 if the Phillies won the World Series. Graham also thinks the mobile barrier would have played a role during the historic flooding on I-676 due to Hurricane Ida in September 2021.   

The 110-foot-long barrier, which has the potential to be 130-foot-long with a 20-foot connector, does allow for more protection for crews, besides using just cones and trucks, but Graham said it is up to Fleet Management to decide now if they will keep it in District 6 or move to other parts of the state for test runs. 

Crews deal with aggressive and distracted drivers every day, so Graham said he was happy to pilot the barrier. "We are going to do anything we can to make things safer for our crews. We don't know if something helps, unless we try it."