U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590

Skip to content


eSubscribe Envelope

FHWA Home / Safety / HSIP / Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook

Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook - 6 Implementation of Projects

Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook - Revised Second Edition August 2007
Section 6: Implementation of Projects Table of Contents | Previous | Next


Implementation of Projects

An organized approach to the implementation of a highway-rail grade crossing improvement program is necessary so that its administrators will proceed effectively and expeditiously to obtain the benefits of the program. The implementation component consists of obtaining all necessary regulatory and funding approvals; preparing and executing agreements among participating parties (typically federal, state, railroad, and any local authorities); designing the selected alternative in detail; establishing appropriate accounting procedures (generally as set forth in the agreements); and constructing the project.

A. Funding

Sources of funds for highway-rail grade crossing improvements include federal, state, and local government agencies, the railroad industry, and special funding.

1. Federal Sources

The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), enacted in 2005, made a number of significant changes in the available matching ratios and the funding environment for highway-rail grade crossing projects. SAFETEA-LU continued the appropriation of federal-aid highway funds through fiscal year 2009. The designation of a safety set-aside in Surface Transportation Program (STP) funding for each state for categorical safety programs, including the highway-rail grade crossing program, which began in 1973, was shifted to the new Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) starting in 2006. From 2006 through 2009, $220 million has been authorized each year in SAFETEA-LU under HSIP as a set-aside for the Section 130 program to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries at public railway-highway crossings through the elimination of hazards and/or the installation/upgrade of protective devices at crossings (SAFETEA-LU Section 1401).

SAFETEA-LU also continued the Federal-Aid Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement Program, allocating $21.6 billion for bridges, including bridges carrying highways over railroads, over the life of the act.

The major provisions of SAFETEA-LU are as follows:

•    SAFETEA-LU continues the ability to provide funding for the elimination of hazards at railway-highway crossings on any public road. Section 1401 creates the new HSIP. This new core program redefines the federal-aid safety program by combining and expanding the definitions of safety projects previously contained in 23 USC 130 and 152. The new program is defined in 23 USC 148 and specifically defines eligible railway-highway crossing projects as:

o Construction of any project for the elimination of hazards at a railway-highway crossing that is eligible for funding under Section 130, including the separation or protection of grades at railway-highway crossings [23 CFR 148(a)(3)(b)(vi)].

o Construction of a railway-highway crossing safety feature, including installation of protective devices [23 CFR 148(a)(3)(b)(vii)].

o The conduct of a model traffic enforcement activity at a railway-highway crossing [23 CFR 148(a)(3)(b)(viii)].

•    The set-aside Section 130 funds under HSIP may be used for but are not limited to the following types of railroad grade crossing safety improvement projects:

o Crossing elimination by new grade separations, relocation of highways, relocation of roadways, relocation of railroads, and crossing closure without other construction.

o Reconstruction of existing grade separations.

o Crossing improvement by:

•    Installation of standard signs and pavement markings.

•    Installation of STOP signs.

•    Installation or replacement of active traffic control devices, including track circuit improvements and interconnection with highway intersection traffic signals.

•    Crossing illumination.

•    Crossing surface improvements.

•    General site improvements.

•    Matching ratios: For projects completed with HSIP funds, the federal matching ratios will be 90 percent or 100 percent, depending on the type of work being accomplished. States, railroads, or localities fund or share the funding of the 10-percent match, where required. Section 130(f) of the Highway Safety Act of 1973 provided a mechanism for increasing the federal share where both local and state funds were incorporated into a railroad project; however, this was usually impractical in practice. SAFETEA-LU continues the provisions of Section 1021(c) of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, which permits an increased federal share on certain types of safety projects, including traffic control signalization, pavement marking, commuter carpooling and vanpooling, or installation of traffic signs, traffic lights, guardrails, impact attenuators, concrete barrier end treatments, breakaway utility poles, or priority control systems for emergency vehicles at signalized intersections. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has determined that railroad grade crossing signals are included in traffic control signalization.122 SAFETEA-LU continues this eligibility for these projects.

•     SAFETEA-LU continues the requirement that a state spend a minimum of 50 percent of its apportionment for the installation of protective devices at railway-highway crossings. The remaining funds may be spent for other types of improvements as defined in Section 130. SAFETEA-LU also contains a provision that up to 2 percent of the funds apportioned to a state may be used for compilation and analysis of data for the required annual report to the secretary on the progress being made to implement the railway-highway crossings program.

•    Additional relevant provisions: SAFETEA-LU continues the ability to make incentive payments in exchange for railway-highway crossing closures. This provision was included in Section 353 of the fiscal year 1997 U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) Appropriations Bill. This payment cannot exceed $7,500 per crossing closure as an equal match to incentives offered by a railroad and does not require a match (i.e. 100-percent funding). A local government receiving an incentive payment from a state shall use the amount of the incentive payment for transportation safety improvements. These improvements are those defined by SAFETEA-LU Section 1401 [revised 23 USC 148(a)(3)] and 23 USC 402.

SAFETEA-LU continues the funding for the 23 USC Section 144 Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program. All bridges carrying highway traffic on public roads, regardless of ownership or maintenance responsibility, are eligible for improvement or replacement under this program. This includes bridges owned by railroads. The federal share in this program is 80 percent. To be eligible for these funds, the bridge over the railroad must be included in the state's bridge inventory and must be placed on the state's prioritized implementation schedule.

In addition to the specific programs described above, other regular federal-aid highway funds may be used for improvements at crossings. The federal share is the normal matching share for the federal-aid highway funds and the types of work involved.

Other requirements pertaining to the use of federal funds are as follows:

•    Federal funds are not eligible for costs incurred solely for the benefit of the railroad.

•    At grade separations, federal funds are eligible to participate in costs to provide space for more tracks than are in place when the railroad establishes to the satisfaction of the state highway agency and FHWA that it has a definite demand and plans for the installation of the additional tracks within a reasonable time.

•    States cannot require railroads to participate in the cost of certain crossing improvement projects completed with federal funds. These projects are specified in the Federal-Aid Policy Guide (FAPG) and referenced to 23 CFR §646.210.123 Restrictions include:

o State laws that require railroads to share in the cost of work for the elimination of hazards at highway-rail grade crossings are not applicable on federal-aid projects.

o Projects for grade crossing improvements are deemed to be of no net benefit to the railroad, and there shall be no required railroad share of the costs.

o Projects for the reconstruction of existing grade separations are deemed to generally be of no ascertainable net benefit to the railroad, and there shall be no required railroad share of the costs, unless the railroad has a specific contractual obligation with the state or its political subdivision to share the costs.

•    The federal share of the cost of a grade separation shall be based on the cost to provide horizontal and/or vertical clearances used by the railroad in its normal practice, subject to limitations as shown in the Appendix to FAPG or as required by a state regulatory agency. 124

•    The railroad share of federal-aid projects that eliminate an existing crossing at which active control devices are in place or ordered to be installed by a state regulatory agency is to be 5 percent. These costs are to include costs for preliminary engineering, right of way, and construction as specified below and in 23 CFR §646.210:

o Where a grade crossing is eliminated by grade separation, the structure and approaches required to transition to a theoretical highway profile that would have been constructed if there were no railroad present, for the number of lanes on the existing highway and in accordance with the current design standards of the state highway agency.

o Where another facility requiring a bridge structure, such as a highway or waterway, is located within the limits of a grade-separation project, the estimated cost of a theoretical structure and approaches to eliminate the highway-rail grade crossing without considering the presence of the waterway or other highway.

o Where a grade crossing is eliminated by railroad or highway relocation, the actual cost of the relocation project, the estimated cost of the relocation project, or the estimated cost for a structure and approaches as described above, whichever is less.

o Railroads may voluntarily contribute a greater share of project costs. Also, other parties may voluntarily assume the railroad's share.

There were a number of federally-funded demonstration projects. These projects were site-specific and are dependent upon annual authorization and appropriations by Congress.

2. State Funding

States also participate in the funding of highway-rail grade crossing improvement projects. States often contribute the matching share for projects financed under the federal-aid highway program. In addition, states sometimes finance entire crossing projects, particularly if the crossing is on a state highway.

In general, for crossings on the state highway system, states provide for the maintenance of the highway approach and for traffic control devices not located on the railroad right of way. Typically, these include advance warning signs and pavement markings.

3. Local Agency Funding

A number of cities and counties have established highway-rail grade crossing improvement funds. Some of these programs provide funding for partial reimbursement of railroad maintenance costs at crossings; some have been established to meet the matching requirements of state and federal programs. Local agencies are often sources of funding for low-cost improvements such as removing vegetation and providing illumination. In addition, local agencies are responsible for maintaining the roadway approaches and the traffic control devices off the railroad right of way on highways under their maintenance jurisdiction.

4. Railroad Funding

Except in certain instances, railroads cannot be required to contribute to the costs of most improvement projects financed with federal funds. However, railroads often volunteer to participate if they receive some benefit from the project. For example, if a project includes the closure of one or more crossings, the railroad may benefit from reduced maintenance costs. Railroads also may assist in low-cost improvements such as changes in railroad operations, track improvements, right-of-way clearance, and others. The maintenance costs incurred by railroads are increased significantly with the installation of additional active traffic control devices. These costs are discussed in Chapter VII.

B. Agreements*

* Includes previously unpublished materials provided by Ray Lewis, West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT), 2006.

A highway-rail grade crossing project involves a minimum of two parties: the state and the railroad. If the crossing is not on the state highway system, an agreement with the county or municipality having maintenance and enforcement jurisdiction over the road will usually be required. The agreement between the state agency and the railroad will establish the project location, scope of work, standards to be applied, basis of payment, and billing procedures. The agreement between the state and the local jurisdiction will provide the authority for the state and the railroad to work and control traffic on the local facility; provide the amount and basis of payment for any local share; establish the maintenance responsibility for the improvements; and should provide for the passage of a law or ordinance so that any traffic control devices being installed at the crossing can be implemented and enforced.

Current practice is to define project responsibilities of the highway authority and the railroad in construction and management (C&M) agreements developed prior to initiation of final design and construction of improvements. C&M agreements can include provisions regarding right of entry and railroad flagging.

FAPG and 23 CFR §646.216(d) require that the written agreement between the state and the railroad shall include the following, as applicable:125

•    The provisions of this subpart and of 23 CFR §140, Subpart I, incorporated by reference.

•    A detailed statement of the work to be performed by each party.

•    Method of payment (either actual cost or lump sum).

•    For projects that are not for the elimination of hazards of highway-rail crossings, the extent to which the railroad is required to move or adjust its facilities at its own expense.

•    The railroad's share of the project cost.

•    An itemized estimate of the cost of the work to be performed by the railroad.

•    Method to be used for performing the work, either by railroad forces or by contract.

•    Maintenance responsibility.

•    Form, duration, and amounts of any needed insurance.

•    Appropriate reference to or identification of plans and specifications.

•    Statements defining the conditions under which the railroad will provide or require protective services during performance of the work, the type of protective services, and the method of reimbursement to the railroad.

•    Provisions regarding inspection of any recovered materials.

Much of the language that must be included in agreements between state highway agencies and railroads is identical from project to project and location to location. A “master agreement” can be used to facilitate the progress of projects. A true master agreement can save valuable programming, legal review, and negotiation time.126 With a master agreement, individual projects can be accomplished through the execution of a change order or supplemental letter agreement specific to the individual project or location. Depending on the individual state and railroad, master agreements may be executed to cover all projects or may be executed separately to cover only specific types of work, such as signals and surface improvements.

The master agreement sets forth the purpose of the agency to engage in the construction or reconstruction of some part or parts of its highway system, which calls for the installation or adjustment of traffic control systems or some other aspect of crossings. The master agreement requires the railroad to prepare detailed plans and specifications for the work to be performed and establishes responsibility for the procurement of materials for improvements. It contains the other provisions pertaining to the general requirements contained in contractual agreements. Change orders or letter agreements in a specified format are then issued for individual projects.

For federal-aid projects, a simplified procedure can be found in FAPG Section 646.218.127 This procedure defines eligible preliminary engineering costs as those incurred in selecting crossings to be improved, determining the type of improvement for each crossing, estimating costs, and preparing the required agreement. The agreement must contain the identification of each crossing location, a description of the improvements, an estimate of costs by crossing location, and an estimated schedule for the completion of work. Following programming, authorization, and approval of the agreement, FHWA may authorize construction, including the acquisition of materials, with the condition that work will not be undertaken until the agreement is found satisfactory by FHWA and the final plans, specifications, and estimates are approved. Only material actually incorporated into the project will be eligible for federal participation.

C. Accounting*

* Includes previously unpublished materials provided by Ray Lewis, WVDOT, 2006.

To be eligible for reimbursement, the costs incurred in work performed on highway-rail grade crossing improvement projects must be tracked in accordance with strict accounting practices and procedures. In that federal-aid highway funds are the primary revenue source for crossing safety improvements, accounting principles adopted by FHWA have become the guide for most state and all federal crossing programs. There are several reasons for the similarities between state and federal accounting procedures. First, as mentioned previously, federal-aid highway funds represent a major part of total state expenditures for crossing improvements. Second, a large part of the state funds expended is in the form of matching funds. Third, because states reach agreement with railroads and local communities for the implementation of crossing projects under both federal and state-funded programs, the accounting procedure for the two programs requires compatibility.

The basic accounting principle to be followed is that all parties to a highway-rail grade crossing improvement must have established a cost accounting system that is capable of segregating all labor, materials, equipment rentals, and other costs associated with the engineering, right-of-way acquisition, utility relocations, or construction work being done under each project.

The policies and procedures of FHWA on reimbursement for railroad work can be found in FAPG Subpart 140I.128 To be eligible for reimbursement, the costs must be:

•    For work included in an approved program.

•    Incurred subsequent to the date of authorization by FHWA.

•    Incurred in accordance with the provisions of 23 CFR, Part 646, Subpart B.

•    Properly attributable to the project.

Following is a brief description of highway-rail grade crossing improvement costs generally considered eligible for reimbursement:

•    Labor costs: Salaries and wages, including fringe benefits and employee expenses. Labor costs include labor associated with preliminary engineering, construction engineering, right of way, and force account construction. Fees paid to engineers, architects, and others for services are also reimbursable.

•    Material and supply costs: The actual costs of materials including inspection, testing, and handling.

•    Equipment costs: The actual expenses incurred in the operation of equipment. Costs incurred in equipment leasing and accrued equipment rental charges at established rates are also eligible for reimbursement.

•    Transportation costs: The costs of employee transportation and the transportation cost for the movement of material, supplies, and equipment.

•    Protective service costs: Expenses incurred in the provision of safety to railroad and highway operations during the construction process.

An agreement providing for a lump sum payment in lieu of a later determination of actual costs (an audit of the project) may be used for the installation of crossing traffic control devices and/or crossing surfaces, regardless of costs. If the lump sum method of reimbursement is used, periodic reviews and analyses of the railroad's methods and cost data used to develop lump sum estimates should be conducted.

Progress billings of incurred costs may be made according to the executed agreement between the state and the railroad. Costs for materials stockpiled at the project site or specifically purchased and delivered to the company for use on the project may also be reimbursed following approval of the agreement.

A major problem experienced in the accounting process is the timeliness of final billings. The railroad should provide one final and complete billing of all incurred costs, or of an agreed lump sum, at the earliest possible date. The final billing should include certification that the work is complete, acceptable, and in accordance with the terms of the agreement.

Salvage value of existing traffic control devices at crossings to be upgraded or closed is a concern. If the equipment is relatively new and in good condition, it may be desirable to reuse it at another crossing. However, if the equipment is older, the cost to remove and refurbish it may make reuse inefficient.

D. Design and Construction

The design of highway-rail grade crossing improvement projects is usually completed by state or railroad engineering forces or by an engineering consultant selected by the state or railroad with the same agency administering the contract. The designation of the designer is to be mutually agreed to by both the state and the railroad.

The railroad signal department usually prepares the design for the active traffic control system, including the train detection circuits. In addition, the railroad signal department usually prepares a detailed cost estimate of the work.

Adequate provision for needed easements, rights of way, temporary crossings for construction purposes, or other property interests should be included in the project design and covered in the agreement.

For federal-aid highway projects, it is expected that materials and supplies, if available, will be furnished from railroad company stock, except that they may be obtained from other sources near the project site when available at less cost. If the necessary materials and supplies are not available from company stock, they may be purchased either under competitive bids or existing continuing contracts, under which the lowest available prices are developed. Minor quantities and proprietary products are excluded from these requirements. The company should not be required to change its existing standards for materials used in permanent changes to its facilities.

Some states allow railroads to stockpile crossing signal materials so that projects may be completed as rapidly as possible. Provided the design of the crossing signals is based on the most appropriate equipment for the individual project, this practice is acceptable.

Scheduling of crossing projects should be accomplished to maximize the efficiency of railroad, state, local, and contractor work forces. This requires coordination and cooperation among all parties. In addition, construction at crossings should be scheduled to minimize the effects on the traveling public. Notice of planned construction activities should be sent to local newspapers and television and radio stations one to three months in advance. Final notices should be given one week and one day in advance of commencing construction work. Efforts should be made to avoid construction during peak hours of highway and train traffic.

When scheduling construction activities, consideration should be given to accomplishing work at crossings in the same geographical area at the same time. In this manner, the travel time of construction crews and the transportation costs of materials are minimized. This is one advantage of the systems approach because all crossings in a specified rail corridor, community, or area are improved at the same time.

For federal-aid highway projects, construction may be accomplished by:

•     Railroad force account;

•     Contracting with the lowest qualified bidder based on appropriate solicitations;

•     Existing continuing contracts at reasonable costs; or

•     Contract without competitive bidding, for minor work, at reasonable costs.

Reimbursement with federal-aid highway funds will not be made for any increased costs due to changes in plans for the convenience of the contractor nor for changes that have not been approved by the state and FHWA.

Contractors may be subject to liability with respect to bodily injury to or death of persons and injury to or destruction of property, which may be suffered by persons other than their own employees as a result of their operations in connection with the construction of highway projects located wholly or partly within railroad right of way and financed in whole or in part with federal funds. Under FAPG, protection to cover such liability of contractors is to be furnished under regular contractors' public liability and property insurance policies, issued in the names of the contractors. Such policies should be written to furnish protection to contractors respecting their operations in performing work covered by their contract.

If a contractor sublets a part of the work on any project to a subcontractor, the contractor should require insurance protection on his or her own behalf under the contractor's public liability and property damage insurance policies. This should cover any liability imposed on him or her by law for damages because of bodily injury to or death of persons and injury to or destruction of property as a result of work undertaken by such subcontractors. In addition, the contractor should provide for and on behalf of any such subcontractors protection to cover like liability imposed upon the latter as a result of their operations by means of separate and individual contractors' public liability and property damage policies. Alternatively, each subcontractor may provide satisfactory insurance on his or her own behalf to cover his individual operations.

The contractor should furnish to the state highway department evidence that the required insurance coverages have been provided. The contractor should also furnish a copy of this evidence to the railroad company or companies. The insurance specified should be kept in force until all work required to be performed has been satisfactorily completed and accepted in accordance with the contract.

In connection with crossing projects, railroad protective liability insurance should be purchased on behalf of the railroad by the contractor. Railroad protective insurance should be in conformance with appropriate state laws.

Railroad protective insurance coverage should be limited to liabilities and damages suffered by the railroad on account of occurrences arising out of the work of the contractor on or about the railroad right of way, regardless of the railroad's general supervision or control.

The maximum amount of coverage for which premiums are to be reimbursed from federal funds with respect to bodily injury, death, and property damage normally is limited to a combined amount of $2 million per occurrence with an aggregate of $6 million applying separately to each annual period. In cases involving real and demonstrable danger of appreciably higher risks, higher dollar amounts of coverage for which premiums will be reimbursable from federal funds will be allowed. These larger amounts will depend on circumstances and will be written for the individual project in accordance with standard underwriting practices upon approval of the FHWA division administrator.

In determining whether a larger dollar amount of coverage is necessary for a particular project, consideration should be given to the size of the project, the amount and type of railroad traffic passing through the project area, the volume of highway traffic in the project area, and the collision experience of the contractor involved in the project.

E. Traffic Control During Construction

Traffic control for highway-rail grade crossing construction is very similar to traffic control for highway construction. The major difference is that the work area is in joint-use right of way, and the possibility of conflict exists between rail and highway traffic as well as in construction operations. Construction areas can present unexpected or unusual situations to the motorist as far as traffic operations are concerned. Because of this, special care should be taken in applying traffic control techniques in these areas.

Both railroad and highway personnel are well trained in the safety and control of their respective traffic streams. However, construction practices, agency policy, labor work rules, and state and federal regulations all contribute to the complexity of crossing work-zone traffic control. When highway construction and maintenance activities at the intersection take place on the tracks or within 15 feet of an active running rail, railroad personnel should be present. Railroad maintenance and construction of crossing signals or surfaces will often require some measure of control of highway traffic.

An open communication channel between railroad and highway personnel is essential to the coordination of crossing construction and maintenance. For example, the railroad engineering department should notify all highway agencies several weeks in advance of track resurfacing or crossing reconstruction operations that require crossings to be closed to highway traffic. The exact schedule of the track work activity should be confirmed by the railroad engineering department a few days before the actual work takes place.

Proper coordination will ensure minimal crossing closure time and will reduce the cost of work-zone traffic control activities. Highway personnel should inform railroad engineering departments of any work scheduled within the railroad right of way weeks before the work begins. The schedule should be reconfirmed with the railroad a few days before the crews are to be on the site.

If the construction or maintenance activity requires the entire crossing to be removed, the crossing should be closed and traffic should be detoured over an alternate route or temporary bypass. Crossings on high-volume rural and urban highways should not be closed during weekdays or peak hours. Traffic control for the construction or maintenance of crossings should be the same as that used for highway construction and maintenance and should comply with the applicable requirements of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).

Traffic safety in construction zones should be an integral and high-priority element of every project, from planning through design and construction. Similarly, maintenance work should be planned and conducted with the safety of motorists, pedestrians, workers, and train crews in mind at all times. The basic safety principles governing the design of crossings should also govern the design of construction and maintenance sites. The goal should be to route traffic through such areas with geometries and traffic control devices comparable, as nearly as possible, to those for normal crossing situations.

A traffic control plan in detail appropriate to the complexity of the work project should be prepared and understood by all responsible parties before the site is occupied. A traffic control plan is required to be included in the plans, specifications, and estimates for all federal-aid projects, as indicated in FAPG. Usually, the highway agency develops the traffic control plans. Any changes in the traffic control plan should be approved by an individual trained in safe traffic control practices.

The method for accomplishing traffic control is to be worked out between the railroad and the state or local highway agency. There is wide latitude as to which party does the work. Many states require that the agency responsible for the highway on which the crossing is located also be responsible for the preparation and implementation of the traffic control plan. This may be the state agency or a local county, city, or town. Some states require the railroad or contractor to implement the traffic control plan. It is emphasized that the individuals who prepare or implement the traffic control in work areas be trained in the requirements of MUTCD. Reimbursement for traffic control costs for a federal-aid project includes payment for force account costs and reimbursement for contractor services.

Traffic movement should be inhibited as little as practicable. Traffic control at work sites should be designed on the assumption that motorists will only reduce their speeds if they clearly perceive a need to do so. Reduced-speed zoning should be avoided as much as practicable. Guidelines for determining speed limits in detour, transitions, and median crossovers are as follows:

•    Detours and crossovers should be designed for speeds equal to the existing speed limit, if at all possible. Speed reductions should not be more than 10 miles per hour (mph) below the speed of the entering highway.

•    Where a speed reduction greater than 10 mph is unavoidable, the transition to the lower limit should be made in steps of not more than 10 mph.

•    Where severe speed reductions are necessary, police or flaggers may be used in addition to advance signing. The conditions requiring the reduced speed should be alleviated as soon as possible.

Frequent and abrupt changes in geometries, such as lane narrowing, dropped lanes, or main highway transitions that require rapid maneuvers, should be avoided. Provisions should be made for the safe operation of work vehicles, particularly on high-speed, high-volume highways. Construction time should be minimized to reduce exposure to potential hazards.

Motorists should be guided in a clear and positive manner while approaching and traversing construction and maintenance work areas. Adequate warning, delineation, and channelization by means of proper pavement marking, signing, and use of other devices that are effective under varying conditions of light and weather should be provided to assure motorists of positive guidance in advance of and through the work area.

Inappropriate markings should be removed to eliminate any misleading cues to drivers under all conditions of light and weather. On short-term maintenance projects, it may be determined that such removal is more hazardous than leaving the existing markings in place. If so, special attention must be paid to provide additional guidance by other traffic control measures. Flagging procedures can provide positive guidance to motorists traversing the work area and should be employed when required to control traffic or when all other methods of traffic control are inadequate to warn and direct drivers.

Each person whose actions affect maintenance and construction zone safety, from upper-level management personnel through construction and maintenance field personnel, should receive training appropriate to the job decisions each individual is required to make. Only individuals who are qualified by means of adequate training in safe traffic control practices and who have a basic understanding of the principles established by applicable standards and regulations, including those of MUTCD, should supervise the selection, placement, and maintenance of traffic control devices in maintenance and construction areas.

Routine inspection of traffic control elements should be performed to ensure acceptable levels of operations. This inspection should verify that all traffic control elements of the project are in conformity with the traffic control plan and are effective in providing safe conditions for motorists, pedestrians, and workers.

The maintenance of roadside safety requires constant attention during the life of the construction zone because of the potential increase in hazards. To accommodate run-off-the-road incidents, disabled vehicles, or other emergency situations, it is desirable to provide an unencumbered roadside recovery area that is as wide as practical. Traffic channelization should be accomplished by the use of pavement markings and signing, flexible posts, barricades, and other lightweight devices that will yield when hit by an errant vehicle. Whenever practical, construction equipment, materials, and debris should be stored in such a manner as not to be vulnerable to run-off-the-road vehicle impact.

As with highway traffic, control of train traffic through construction areas must provide for the safety of labor forces and safe train operations. Ideally, construction and maintenance at a highway-rail grade crossing would occur under conditions with no highway or train traffic. However, this is rarely practical.

To minimize the impact on train operations, careful planning is required. The railroad should be notified well in advance of planned construction or maintenance activities. Thus, necessary work can be coordinated and proper plans can be made for the operation of train traffic.

Rail traffic is not as easily detoured as highway traffic. Highway users may be directed over an adjacent crossing, which may not be more than one mile away, or a temporary crossing surface may be inexpensively constructed adjacent to the work site.

Detours for rail traffic may greatly increase the costs of rail operations due to increased travel time and distance. Temporary trackage (shoo-fly) may be expensive to construct. At multiple-track crossings, work may sometimes be planned to close only one track to train traffic at a time and provide for the continuation of all train traffic over the remaining track. At other times, the heavy cost of temporary railroad signaling and interlocking may preclude this solution.

Train crews are notified of construction or maintenance activities through train orders or railroad signal systems. Appropriate instructions for operating through the area are provided by the dispatcher. A railroad employee is established on the construction site as a flagman to advise of approaching trains so that labor forces may move off the track while the train passes through the area.

When planning construction or maintenance work at highway-rail grade crossings, proper coordination with the railroad is essential. The safety of highway users, highway and railroad work crews, and train crews can best be provided through the development of a work plan to meet the needs of rail and highway traffic.

1. Traffic Control Zones

When traffic is affected by construction, maintenance, utility, or similar operations, traffic control is needed to safely guide and protect highway users and workers in a traffic control zone. The traffic control zone is the distance between the first advance warning sign and the point beyond the work area where traffic is no longer affected.

Most traffic control zones can be divided into the following parts: advance warning area, transition area, buffer space, work area, and termination area. These are shown in Figure 61.

The advance warning area should be long enough to give motorists adequate time to respond to the changed conditions. This length is at least 1,500 feet in rural areas but may be a minimum of one block in urban areas.

If a lane or shoulder is closed, a transition area is needed to channelize traffic from normal highway lanes to the path required to move traffic around the work area. The transition area contains the tapers used to close lanes. A taper is a series of channelizing devices and pavement markings placed on an angle to move traffic out of its normal path. The length of a taper is determined by the speed of traffic and the width of the lane to be closed. The formulae for determining the length of a taper are:

Posted speed 40 mph or less: Equation 15: L=WS²/60

Figure 61. Areas in a Traffic Control Zone

Figure 61. Areas in a Traffic Control Zone. This diagram shows traffic space and buffer space in a work space on a roadway. First there is advanced notification before traffic is moved around work space, then there is a transition area where traffic is moved, then the activity area where traffic passes the work space, then the downstream taper in the termination area to return traffic to normal patterns.

Source: Manual on Uniform Traffc Control Devices, 2003 Edition. Washington, DC: Federal Highway Administration, 2003.

Table 48. Channelizing Devices for Tapers

Speed Limit

Taper Length (L)
Lane Width (feet)

Number of
Devices for Taper

Spacing of
Devices Along
Taper (feet)




















































Source: Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook, Second Edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 1986.

Posted speed 45 mph or more: L = WS       (15)


The recommended number and spacing of channelizing devices for various speeds and widths of closing are given in Table 48.

A two-way traffic taper is used in advance of a work area that occupies part of a two-way road in such a way that the remainder of the road is used alternately by traffic in either direction. A short taper is used to cause traffic to slow down by giving the appearance of restricted alignment. One or more flaggers are usually employed to assign the right of way. Two-way traffic tapers should be 50 to 100 feet long, with channelizing devices spaced at a maximum of 10 to 20 feet.

The buffer space is the open or unoccupied space between the transition and work areas and provides a margin of safety for both traffic and workers. Channelizing devices should be placed along the edge of the buffer space, spaced (in feet) two times the posted speed limit.

The work area is the portion of the highway that contains the work activity, is closed to traffic, and is set aside for exclusive use by workers, equipment, and construction materials. The work area is usually delineated by channelizing devices or shielded by barriers to exclude traffic and pedestrians.

The termination area provides a short distance for traffic to clear the work area and return to normal traffic lanes. A downstream taper may be placed in the termination area to shift traffic back to its normal path.

2. Traffic Control Devices

Signs. Regulatory and warning signs are used in construction work areas. Regulatory signs impose legal restrictions and may not be used without permission from the authority having jurisdiction over the highway. Warning signs are used to give notice of conditions that are potentially hazardous to traffic. Typical warning signs used in construction work areas are shown in Figure 62.

The high conspicuity of fluorescent orange colors provides an additional margin of safety by producing a high visual impact in hazardous areas. Therefore, where the color orange is specified for use in traffic control for construction and maintenance operations, it is acceptable to utilize materials having fluorescent red-orange or yellow-orange colors.

Signs may be attached to posts or portable supports that are lightweight, yielding, or breakaway. The minimum height requirements for signs attached to posts are shown in Figure 62. Signs on portable supports are required by MUTCD to be at least 1 foot above the highway.

Pavement markings. Pavement markings and delineators outline the vehicular path and, thus, guide the motorist through the construction area. Pavement markings include lane stripes, edge stripes, centerline stripes, pavement arrows, and word messages. Markings are made of paint (with bead reflectorization); raised reflectorized markers; preformed adhesive-backed reflectorized tape; cold preformed reflectorized plastics; hot reflectorized plastics; epoxies; and other materials placed by heating and spraying.

Figure 62. Typical Signs for Traffic Control in Work Zones

Figure 62. Typical Signs for Traffic Control in Work Zones. This diagram shows several signs in orange diamond shapes, such as Road Work Ahead, Detour 500 ft or Detour 150 m (these appear in Rural Districts), and Road Closed 500 ft or Road Closed 150 m, Right Lane Closed 1000 ft or Right Lane Closed 300m (these are for an Urban District).

Source: Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, 2003 Edition. Washington, DC: Federal Highway Administration, 2003.

The standard markings planned for the road should be in place before opening a new facility to traffic. Also, if revised lane patterns are planned for the work zone, temporary markings should be placed before the traffic

is changed. Where this is not feasible, such as during the process of making a traffic shift or carrying traffic through surfacing operations, temporary delineation may be accomplished with lines of traffic cones, other channelizing devices, or strips of adhesive-backed reflectorized tape.

When pavement placed during the day is to be opened to traffic at night, and permanent striping cannot be placed before the end of work, a temporary stripe should be applied to provide an indication to the driver of the location of the lane or centerline. Standard marking patterns are most desirable for this use. On rock-screened seal coats, striping should be applied following removal of excess screenings.

For relatively long-term use, or when the surface is to be covered later with another layer, reflectorized traffic paint or preformed adhesive-backed tape, with or without raised pavement markers, should be considered. For relatively short-term use and when frequent shifts are to be made, adhesive-backed reflectorized tape is useful. Raised pavement markers may be used to form the pavement markings to supplement marked stripes. High speeds and volumes of traffic may justify raised markers for even comparatively short periods. They are particularly valuable at points of curvature and transition.

Pavement arrows are useful in guiding traffic when the traveled way does not coincide with the configuration of the exposed surface area, such as when the color of the transition pavement is different from the existing pavement. Pavement arrows are especially useful on a two-way, undivided roadway to remind the driver of opposing traffic. “Two-Way Traffic” signs should be used in conjunction with the arrows for the application. The arrows should be completely removed once the two-way traffic condition is no longer needed.

Whenever traffic is shifted from its normal path, whether a lane is closed, lanes are narrowed, or traffic is shifted onto another roadway or a detour, conflicting pavement markings should be removed. Exceptions to this may be made for short-term operations, such as a work zone under flagger control or moving or mobile operations. Use of raised pavement markings or removable markings may be economical because they are usually easier to remove when no longer needed.

Delineators. Delineators are reflective units with a minimum dimension of approximately 3 inches. The reflector units can be seen up to 1,000 feet under normal conditions when reflecting the high beams of motor vehicle headlights. Delineators should be installed about 4 feet above the roadway on lightweight posts.

Delineators should not be used alone as channelizing devices in work zones but may be used to supplement these channelizing devices in outlining the correct vehicle path. They are not to be used as a warning device. To be effective, several delineators need to be seen at the same time. The color of the delineator should be the same as the pavement marking that it supplements.

Channelizing devices. Channelizing devices consist of cones, tubular markers, vertical panels, drums, barricades, and barriers. Cones are lightweight devices that may be stacked for storage, are easy to place and remove, and are a minor impedance to traffic flow. They are at least 18 inches high. Cones that are 28 inches high should be used on high-speed roadways, on all facilities during hours of darkness, or whenever more conspicuous guidance is needed. Cones are reflectorized for use at night with a 6-inch-wide reflectorized band placed no more than 3 inches from the top or with a lighting device.

Tubular markers are also lightweight, easy to install, and are a minor impedance to traffic flow. They must be set in weighted bases or fastened to the pavement. They should be at least 18 inches high, with taller devices preferred for better visibility. Markers should be reflectorized for use at night with two reflectorized bands, 3 inches in width, placed no more than 2 inches from the top and with no more than 6 inches between the bands.

Vertical panels are 8 to 12 inches in width and a minimum of 24 inches in height. They are advantageous in narrow areas where barricades and drums would be too wide. They are mounted on lightweight posts driven into the ground or placed on lightweight portable supports. The orange and white stripes on vertical panels slope down toward the side on which traffic is to pass. They should be reflectorized as barricades and installed such that the top is a minimum of 36 inches above the highway.

Drums are highly visible and appear to be formidable objects, thus commanding the respect of motorists. They should be marked with horizontal orange and white stripes that are reflectorized and 4 to 8 inches wide. The drum must have at least two sets of orange and white stripes but can also have nonreflectorized spaces up to 2 inches wide between the stripes.

Barricades should be constructed of lightweight materials and are classified as Types I, II, and III. Types I and II are used for either channelizing or marking hazards. Type III barricades are used for road closures. The barricade rails have alternating orange and white reflectorized stripes that slope down toward the side on which traffic is to pass.

Barriers provide a physical limitation through which a vehicle would not normally pass. They are used to keep traffic from entering a work area or hitting an exposed object or excavation. They provide protection for workers and construction and separate two-way traffic. They are usually made of concrete or metal and are designed to contain and redirect an errant vehicle.

Exposed ends of barriers should have crash cushions to protect traffic or flared ends provided by extending the barrier beyond the clear roadside recovery area. Two types of crash cushions used in work zones are sand-filled plastic barriers and the portable guard rail energy absorbing terminal.

High-level warning devices are tall, portable stands with flags and/or flashing lights. Three flags, 16-inch-square or larger, are mounted at least 8 feet above the highway.

Lighting devices. Three types of warning lights may be used in construction areas. Flashing lights are appropriate for use on a channelizing device to warn of an isolated hazard at night or call attention to warning signs at night. High-intensity lights are appropriate to use on advance warning lights during day and night. Steady-burn lights are appropriate for use on a series of channelizing devices or on barriers that either form the taper to close a lane or shoulder or keep a section of lane or shoulder closed, and are also appropriate on the channelizing devices alongside the work area at night.

Work vehicles in or near traffic areas are hazards and should be equipped with emergency flashers, flashing lights, strobes, or rotating beacons. High-intensity lights are effective during both day and night. The laws of the agency having jurisdiction over the street or highway should be checked concerning requirements for flashing vehicle lights. These lights should be used in addition to other channelizing and warning devices. However, in some emergency situations where the work will be in progress for a short time, these lights may be the only warning device.

Flashing arrow panels are signs with a matrix of lights capable of either flashing or sequential displays. They are effective during day and night for moving traffic out of a lane to the left or the right, and may be used for tapered lane closures. These arrow panels should not be used when no lanes are closed, when there is no interference in traffic flow, or when a flagger is controlling traffic on a normal two-lane two-way road.

Flagging. Flagging should be used only when required to control traffic or when all other methods of traffic control are inadequate to warn and direct drivers. The procedures for flagging traffic are contained in MUTCD Section 6E. The standard signals to be used by flaggers are illustrated in Figure 63. Flaggers should be in sight of each other or have direct communication at all times.

A number of hand signaling devices, such as STOP/ SLOW paddles, lights, and red flags are used to control traffic through work zones. The sign paddle bearing the clear messages “Stop” or “Slow” provides motorists with more positive guidance than flags and should be the primary hand-signaling device. The use of flags should be limited to emergency situations and at spot locations that can best be controlled by a single flagger.

When a highway-rail grade crossing exists either within or in the vicinity of a temporary traffic control zone, lane restrictions, flagging, or other operations shall not be performed in a manner that would cause vehicles to stop on the railroad tracks, unless a law enforcement officer or flagger is provided at the highway-rail grade crossing to minimize the possibility of vehicles stopping on the tracks, even if automatic warning devices are in place.129

3. Typical Applications

Typical applications of traffic control devices in crossing work zones are shown in Figures 64 through 67. The dimensions shown in these figures may be adjusted to fit field conditions in accordance with the guidelines presented in MUTCD and the Traffic Control Devices Handbook. When numerical distances are shown for sign spacing, the distances are intended for rural areas and urban areas with a posted speed limit of 45 mph or more. For urban areas with a posted speed of 45 mph or less, the sign spacing should be in conformance with Table 49.

Table 49. Sign Spacing for Urban Areas

Speed Limit

Sign Spacing



30 mph or less

300 feet

200 feet

35 mph or 40 mph

450 feet

300 feet

Source: Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook, Second Edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 1986.

Signs with specific distances shown should not be used if the actual distance varies significantly from that shown. The word message “Ahead” should be used in urban areas and in other areas where a specific distance is not applicable. Standard crossing pavement markings are not shown in the figures for clarity and should be utilized where appropriate. All applicable requirements for traffic control in work areas set forth in MUTCD shall apply to construction and maintenance of crossings. Additional traffic control devices other than those shown in the figures should be provided when highway and traffic conditions warrant. These devices should conform to the requirements of MUTCD. All traffic control devices that are not applicable at any specific time shall be covered, removed, or turned so as to not be visible to the motorist.

Figure 63. Use of Hand Signaling Devices by Flagger

Figure 63. Use of Hand Signaling Devices by Flagger. This diagram shows several images of a person demonstrating various traffic control instructions, such as stopping traffic with Stop/Slow Paddle or Red Flag, to let traffic proceed with Slow/Stop paddle or waving arm, to  alert and slow traffic with Slow/Stop Paddle  or waving red flag.

Source: Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, 2003 Edition. Washington, DC: Federal Highway Administration, 2003.

Figure 64. Crossing Work Activities, Two-Lane Highway, One Lane Closed

Figure 64. Crossing Work Activities, Two-Lane Highway, One Lane Closed. This diagram shows placement of signs, traffic taper, work zone, for rural or urban settings.

Figure 65. Crossing Work Activities, Multilane Urban Divided Highway, One Roadway Closed, Two-Way Traffic

Figure 65. Crossing Work Activities, Multilane Uran Divided Highway, One Roadway Closed, Two-Way Traffic. This diagram shows placement of signs, flagger stations, traffic tapers and work zones.

Source: Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook, Second Edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 1986.

Figure 66. Crossing Work Activities, Closure of Side Road Crossing

Figure 66. Crossing Work Activities, Closure of Side Road Crossing. This diagram shows the placement of signs, flagger stations, traffic taper and work zones when a cross street must be closed off.

Figure 67. Crossing Work Activities, One Lane of Side Road Crossing Closed

Figure 67. Crossing Work Activities, One Lane of Side Road Crossing Closed. This diagram shows the placement of signs, flagger stations, traffic taper zones and work zones when one lane of a side crossing road must be closed, for both rural and urban settings.

Source: Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook, Second Edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation,

F. Program Development

Program development is the portion of the total process concerned with selecting the specific improvement projects (including the type of improvement to be made along with the estimated cost of such improvements) to be included in a highway-railroad grade crossing improvement program.

Program implementation is the portion of the total process concerned with making specific improvements at specific highway-railroad grade crossings.

Some method should be used to establish a priority ranking of crossings to be considered for improvement. The prioritizing of a crossing for improvement can be done individually, or the corridor approach can be used. The corridor approach considers a number of crossings along a railroad line. Utilizing this method, the potential for improving the efficiency of railroad and highway operations may be considered.

The total program should include more projects than can reasonably be funded. This is to ensure that substitutions can be made in the priority list following field evaluation of the crossings by the diagnostic team.

To aid in the programming of projects, a resource allocation model has been developed to assist in making allocation decisions. The methodology, using a highway-railroad crossing accident prediction formula, traffic control device system effectiveness, and cost parameters, provides a funding priority ranking of projects. On the state and local level, it can be used to prioritize crossing projects and options by their benefit-cost ratio.

It should be emphasized that, in the use of ranking procedures (hazard indices, resource allocation), the algorithm does not dictate the final decision. These tools should be considered only as an aid to state and local officials and railroad management for making decisions. Local conditions and the judgment of state and local officials should play a major role in this evaluation process.130

G. References

Federal-Aid Policy Guide. Washington, DC: Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), updated periodically.

Federal Highway Administration Survey of Region and Division Offices, unpublished, 1984.

Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, 2003 Edition. Washington, DC: FHWA, 2003.

Traffic Control Devices Handbook. Washington, DC: FHWA, 1983.


122 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, Public Law 102-240.

123 Federal-Aid Policy Guide. Washington, DC: Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), updated periodically.

124 Ibid.

125 Federal-Aid Policy Guide. Washington, DC: FHWA, updated periodically.

126 Hargrove, Lamar H.P. “New Approaches to System Management.” Proceedings of the 1974 National Conference on Railroad-Highway Crossing Safety, panel presentation, August 19–22, 1974.

127 Federal-Aid Policy Guide. Washington, DC: FHWA, updated periodically.

128 Federal-Aid Policy Guide. Washington, DC: FHWA, updated periodically.

129 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, 2003 Edition. Washington, DC: FHWA, 2003.

130 Traffic Control Devices Handbook. Washington, DC: Institute of Transportation Engineers, 2001.

  Table of Contents | Previous | Next
Page last modified on October 15, 2014.
Safe Roads for a Safer Future - Investment in roadway safety saves lives
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000