MSU receives $231K grant from Federal Highway Administration to conduct research on work zone safety

The MSU Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering with SPDC received funding from the FHWA to contribute to the development of highway work zone safety guidelines materials.

Photo of a Portable Dynamic Message Board that reads
A Portable Dynamic Message Board in a work zone. Photo courtesy of the Federal Highway Administration.

The Michigan State University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering with the School of Planning, Design and Construction have received funding from the Federal Highway Administration to contribute to the development of highway work zone safety guidelines materials to assist state and local government agencies involved in highway work zones.

Michigan State was awarded a $231K grant for this project, which runs through 2021. The MSU team, led by Timothy Gates from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, includes:

  • Mehrnaz Ghamami from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering;
  • Dong Zhao from the Construction Management Program in the School of Planning, Design and Construction;
  • Ali Zockaie from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; and
  • A team of graduate students.

The purpose of this five-year grant is to develop materials that will address several work zone safety operations issues and practices, which will broadly include various worker groups, and will be broadly relevant across regions/states.

The guidelines will be developed to help these agencies/entities better understand key work zone safety considerations/applications and how they could be incorporated into their project development processes.

“I am excited to work with this interdisciplinary team of faculty and graduate students spanning across the College of Engineering and SPDC. Each of the collaborators brings a different set of skills, experiences and perspectives to the project, which is exactly what the Federal Highway Administration likes to see. Michigan State is truly exceptional when it comes to fostering interdisciplinary collaborations between departments and colleges,” said Tim Gates.

The team will also investigate low-cost work zone management strategies and will work with state departments of transportation to obtain a consensus as to the definition of “low-cost” countermeasures, as well as to develop an inventory of such countermeasures in use across the U.S.

This work will also involve a review of the state-of-the-art and state-of-the-practice regarding low-cost work zone management strategies. Based on this inventory, a guidebook will be created that documents those low-cost strategies based upon factors, such as cost, as well as the documented effectiveness of these strategies using peer-reviewed research results where available.

Specific countermeasures will be identified for various scenarios, which may include different facility types (e.g., high-speed rural interstate; two-way, two-lane highway; etc.) or different work types. Short content modules and videos will be prepared, which can be easily integrated into various existing training programs.

Dong Zhao from SPDC will contribute to the project by providing expertise on the human-centered construction.

“Work zones represents a complex socio-technical system, which includes humans, technology, management and the environment. How to organize all these factors to ensure the system function is a key to project success," said Dong Zhao.

For more information about this project, please contact Timothy Gates at or Dong Zhao at  

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