Like Night and Day By John S. Ball III
Nighttime paving is a whole new ballgame
Contractors are being asked to perform more nighttime paving these days. It used to be just a once-in-awhile job, but now it's an everynight occurrence. High visability is the name of the game when you're paving, but it is especially critical with night paving. When the traveling public comes down the road, what's the first thing they see to indicate there is work ahead, that they need to slow down and be cognizant of crew members standing in or near traffic? High visibility means not only that the crew can be seen, but that the signing, cones, and barrels are up in the job zone, and that the proper indicators are positioned at intervals well ahead of the work zone.
One of the most important steps in preparing for night paving is to alert the public of what's happening out there. The more we can inform the traveling public, the easier it will be to perform the work in progress for that night. And the earlier we can let them know, the better. This may happen 3 or 4 miles (5 or 6 k) before they get to the construction zone. It may seem like a long time to them, but it allows them sufficient time at different intervals to recognize they need to change their driving pattern.
A sign of the times (top)
The number one factor in preparing drivers for nighttime paving is signage. Permanent signs are seen first. They are usually 4 x 4s on posts which indicate construction ahead for the next X miles, and they are considered permanent because the are installed in the ground.
Message boards play a key role after permanent signs. They alert the driver to what kind of construction is going on down the road. Message boards might announce to the traveling public the dates of construction or what ramps they can expect to find closed or open.
These types of signs can also indicate what's going to happen for not only the week but for the night as well as whether there's anything special drivers should be alerted to, such as an open joint down the center line or grooved pavement resulting in an uneven surface after milling.
Next, drivers usually come upon an arrow board flashing left or right depending on what's closed, and this is also where the taper of cones starts. The length of the taper determines how many cones are placed and how far out those cones are spaced. Sometimes the job calls for placing barrels out on top of a drainage inlet. Other times, horse barricades are used. The direction in which the reflective tape is placed on the barricades determines the slope of the road, which way traffic will go.
In order to properly set signs and cones, you need a traffic coordinator as part of your paving crew. Because signs blow over, and cones get knocked over both in and out of the workzone, this person should be a rover. He should be like a traffic cop, roving up and down the road to make sure signs and cones and safety barriers are up and in place. He must be in a highly visible truck equipped with orange and white strobe lights and a flashing arrow attenuator so bright they make you immediately wonder what's going on.
In addition to strobe lights, more experienced companies who do nighttime paving will invest in breaklights and four-way flashers to install on their flagging truck. The breaklights will have strobe lights and the headlights will flash, like a cop pulling you over. They're called wigwag lights, and they work effectively to get the traveling public's attention.
Lights, camera, action! (top)
Many drivers may go through the elaborate pattern of signs and directional tools you have installed, but they may not be paying attention. As they get to the lights of the construction sight all they may see is a huge white light in the middle of the road and that can be confusing if they haven't paid attention to the signs and cones and changed their driving pattern.
That's why the contractor must make the workzone as highly visible as possible and make sure crew members are well lit with reflective vests and similar safety clothes. But he must also make sure the crew members can see the traffic all around the work zone, and that's where lighting comes into play.
Key to night paving is alerting the public, but also key is having the crew members know exactly what the gameplan will be. Will the crew pave the road about a mile that night? What is the scope of the work? The crew foreman and supervisor must make sure the whole crew is informed because at night there is a limitation to the work scope. You can't look down the road and judge the distance, because you're faced with total darkness. The laborers, roller operator, paver operator, and back-end people are all affected by this situation, and that's why it's so important to discuss in detail the scope of work planned for the night. It's critical to line out the work you're going to do.
One of the most important factors is that everybody looks out for each other. As crew members, everybody has to know where everybody else is because once you step outside the light and into the shadows nobody knows where you've gone. The paver puts out a lot of light, but if you go outside that lit area, it's a danger zone.
You want to make sure you tell somebody you're going to the pickup truck to get some paint if that's what you're going after. In the daytime you can take things like that for granted because everybody can see you're going for the paint. That's also why everyone wears a vest at night. Crew members used to wear reflective belts, but you can't see them at night, so they wear reflective vests.
Some states are now writing a light package into their specs. They don't specify how to put the lights on, but how many lumens are needed on the paver and the roller. The wattage determines how many lumens you need. Paver manufacturers leave it up to the buyer to set up his lighting system. There are many types of lights available to the contractor. You may have two spotlights that shine into the auger section and a couple by the hopper, but that's about all most pavers are equipped with. However, paver manufacturers do offer a generator that fits on the paver and is operated hydraulically so you don't have gas cans to worry about. It runs off the hydraulic pumps and turns out 9,000 watts, so it turns out a pretty good amount of light when you need it.
On a recent job in Erie, Pa., we had a rather unique light package for a nighttime paving job. We used three different kinds of lights on the paver. We mounted fluorescent lights over the operator's head to shine directly into the auger area. This clearly illuminates the augers as they turn, the head of material and the feeder paddles. This worked most effectively back there because fluorescent is soft light, and doesn't produce a lot of shadows.
The contractor made a light stand 8 feet (2.5 m) high above the paver. The higher up you go with the lights, the more radiance you achieve. On top of this light stand, we used six 500-watt floodlights. Spotlights were used most often for this situation, but they create beams of light. Floodlights have a broader illumination area. And, because the light package is so high, we usually have two floodlights shining on the back of the mat when the mix comes out, and two others mounted on the edge of the pole of the light frame so light is shed on the edgers. Two others in the middle shine on the hopper. Usually, contractors use floodlights to light up the equipment and the workzone. Very few use fluorescent lights because they're fragile and have to be mounted in a plastic tube for safety factors. The light package frame isn't that rigid, so if you go over something rough it will protect the fluorescent lights. They're 4 foot fluorescent tubes and are usually mounted in groups of four. They offer a beautiful ray of light. Floodlights are harsh and very bright. If you stand in a floodlight it shadows. Fluorescent light doesn't cast as much shadow.
The best light of all, in my opinion, is the average street light. We mounted a street light on a pole in the middle of the paver and the hopper. It is unique because it works with a 500 watt floodlight, and it illuminates the whole hopper and surrounding area so when the truck backs up there is no light beaming in the driver's mirror. it beautifully illuminates the width of the hopper so the truck and paver can meet nicely.
On this particular job, though, we had a troublesome spot. The guy operating the paver could not see his guidebar very well by the push roller. So, using some ingenuity, we had a mechanic come up with another 500 watt light which he mounted onto a magnet. Because the whole paver is all metal he just stuck it to the side of the hopper to illuminate that area perfectly.
Shedding light on safety (top)
Matching the joint is another hot spot you have to tackle strategically when you're paving at night. We could see the head of material, but we couldn't quite see how it came out from underneath the screed. So, we had another magnetic light mounted to the edger plate. It was a good engineering solution.
If you're using automatics, often they will provide they're own light. On this particular night paving job, the contractor used the Topcon system, and the numbers and gauges were all lit up, so we had no problem seeing the automation. We ran them off a ski, so with all those lights on, the ski was illuminated, and we were able to see the joint matcher.
Another area which it is critical to have well illuminated is the operator's pedal on the paver. The operator must be able to see his instrument panels. The pedestals for the back of the paver must also be well lit so the screed operator can see the controls he or she has to use. You just can't put enough lights on a paver to allow your crew a good view of everything.
When we talk about nighttime paving, it's not just the scope of the work we're going to accomplish, but how safely we can do it, and whether everybody on the job is well protected. That applies to the traveling public as well. Do they understand what we're doing when they come upon us and do our people understand how dangerous it is out there? Their vision isn't as clear as it is in the daytime.
Like night and day (top)
A unique thing happens at night when you pave. As you pave in the daytime, you're paving along, and you're looking at the traffic, people zipping by, tooting their horns at you, and you wave back at people. At night it's a totally different world. You don't have this background activity, because no one is around. You work a little harder at night because the scope of work you accomplish is different. There's no room for fooling around at night, and there are no distractions because of the sight limitations.
Also, there's no second guessing anything at night, and that means the equipment has to be on the ready at all times. Everything is all fueled up, all watered up, and operators know exactly how much water is in your roller. They're more alert at work because they can't stop for a breakdown.
Usually, the equipment used at night is well maintained. The mechanic won't send you a questionable piece of equpment, because you can't afford to have any breakdowns at night. There is no one to fix the equipment. You don't have the luxury of having places open for that, so you have to make sure your equipment is well maintained. Usually a mechanic stays with you at night because normally the job is big enough to require it. The mechanic will often help out operating a roller or second paver so he fills his time when he isn't fixing a breakdown.
And, supervisors are more in tune to the ways of the operators at night. They make the work situation better to achieve more production. They decide what they can do to make it easier for the operators to emphasize the quality of work. Supervisors recognize the need to do the little extras they don't have to do on daytime jobs.
For instance, we made use of the paver generator and kept our people awake at the same time on this particular nighttime job. We had a 50-cup coffee pot on board the paver to keep everybody awake. Crew members could have coffee whenever they wanted it. That kind of catering to the employee is good because in "the twilight zone" sleepiness sets in between 3 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. Your body starts to wonder what's happening, and thinks it's time to shut down. You kind of walk around like you're in a daze. Having coffee on board helps tremendously.
Nighttime paving crews look at one another and check on each other about that time. They'll spot their partners, and allow each other to sit down a little bit. The best part of the night, many crew members say, is right around 4:45 a.m. when it starts to get light out and the sun starts to come up. If you've never paved at night, it may look like a horror show out there on the mat because the lights show every dimple, every wrinkle, every stop mark in the mat. That emphasizes everything, but if you stick to the right procedures, when daylight hits, the finished product is never as bad as you think.
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