BREMERTON — Kitsap County has purchased a new tool to help improve safety in construction zones.
The county recently purchased two automated flagger assistance devices (AFAD) for $34,000, enabling the county to not only make street work safer for employees, but also to hopefully make the entire public works department more efficient.
“Work zones are dangerous places,” county road superintendent Jacques Dean said in a statement about the devices. “In 2014, there were 669 fatalities from crashes in work zones across the United States … Using an automated device increases safety and helps motorists more clearly see the work zone.”
Safety environmental analyst Tony Carroll said the county purchased the devices after a report to the Legislature from the state Department of Transportation in early 2017.
“We looked at them and we budgeted for them so that we could try them [and] see if they’re going to work for us,” Carroll said. “We’re really sure they are, after getting them and going through the training with them. We want to use them, and we know there’s going to be a cost savings with having less people performing flagging operations.”
The public works department was first able to use an AFAD in a work zone in Seabeck on April 11. Carroll said they wanted to use the AFAD in a low-traffic area first to “work out the kinks” and give employees time to get used to using it.
The way the AFAD works is it replaces one of the two flaggers on either end of the work zone, so only one person is standing in traffic with a “Stop” and “Slow” sign directing traffic. That flagger also operates the AFAD on the other end of the work zone with a remote. The AFAD has a traffic bar that is lowered when oncoming traffic should stop and raised when they should go, like in a parking garage. There is also a red light when people should stop, and a yellow light when they should proceed slowly through the construction zone. The public works department has set an 800-foot limit between the AFAD and the flagger to ensure the remote is safely within range.
The AFAD is a large machine with a large light that makes it easier to spot than a flagger, Carroll said. It also has an intrusion alarm that will go off if a car moves into the zone while the bar is lowered, alerting the workers for their safety.
The AFAD has a battery pack that should last about a week, Carroll said, as well as a solar panel to help the machine maintain a charge when it’s not plugged in.
Aside from increasing safety in work zones, Carroll said these machines will hopefully increase efficiency in the department.
“Our work load is a lot,” Carroll said, “and so those flaggers, when they’re not flagging, they’re freed up to do other work, either putting in pipe in the ground or raking asphalt or driving trucks or back hoes. So it frees up a person to be able to do other things.”
Carroll said they may purchase more in the future if the AFADs prove worth it.
“We’re going to be tracking the numbers on cost savings and if they work, if they’re dependable,” he said. “We’ll know a little bit better after this year if we can purchase more.”
Carroll said one of the first higher-traffic areas people will be able to see the AFADs in action will be on a road-widening project in Hansville.
For more information, visit spf.kitsapgov.com/pw.