Oct. 4, 2023
Contact: Eric Stann, 573-882-3346, StannE@missouri.edu
As the State of Missouri embarks on the expansion of Interstate 70, the vital east-west transportation corridor connecting St. Louis and Kansas City, researchers at the University of Missouri are preparing to leverage the institution’s 30-plus years of proven expertise in highway work zone safety research to help keep drivers and workers safe during the estimated five-to-seven-year project.
Recently, the Missouri Work Zone Safety Center of Excellence (MOWZES) was established at the MU College of Engineering. The center’s goal is to lead research and outreach on developing behavioral, educational, engineering and technology solutions to achieve zero fatalities and serious injuries in work zones. These efforts are being supported by several current research projects exceeding $1.5 million in combined funding from the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
Praveen Edara, interim dean in the College of Engineering, is excited for the opportunity to help MoDOT and industry partners test new innovations to make highway work zones safer as the Statewide Improve I-70 Program begins to take shape.
“Fatalities and serious injuries continue to be on the rise in highway work zones, with data showing a disproportionate amount of distracted driving, speeding and commercial motor vehicle involvement in these crashes,” said Edara, who is also the founding director of MOWZES. “The center establishes a one-stop resource for transportation and industry partners within the state of Missouri by leveraging our existing strengths in research and our collaborative partnerships. As part of a land-grant university, our mission is to help the citizens of our state, and we all use highways and travel through work zones.”
The center’s research efforts, which are aligned with U.S. Department of Transportation’s promoting safety research priority area and MoDOT’s Show-Me Zero initiative, will focus on four key areas:
- Integration of emerging technologies like smart work zones and autonomous vehicles.
- Use of data and tools such as artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to improve safety and predict crash risk.
- Developing countermeasures to address distracted driving and other adverse driving behaviors to improve worker safety.
- Developing accommodations for vulnerable road users such as bicyclists, pedestrians and people with disabilities.
“During peak season, MoDOT has 800 work zones active every day,” said Ed Hassinger, deputy director and chief engineer at MoDOT. “Having the Missouri Work Zone Safety Center of Excellence as a resource will be a great asset in our efforts to drive down work zone fatalities and serious injuries.”
The center, overseen by an advisory board of public, private and academic partners, also uses MU’s transportation simulation lab, ZouSim, to study innovative solutions without putting drivers or others on the road at risk before they are ready for real-life implementation. A comprehensive educational and workforce development program for K-12, degree-granting and non-degree programs is also under development. For more information, visit the MOWZES website.
Edara is also chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.