The in basket: The over-staffed road project, commonly symbolized by someone leaning on a shovel, is so much a part of modern lore that I wasn’t surprised when my wife, The Judybaker, came home one recent day and said she’d seen it again at Mile Hill Drive and Woods Road, near our home.
When I drove past the crew twice in the next few days, I noticed that they were replacing the worn turn arrows, stop bars and crosswalk lines at Woods and Long Lake roads. Sure enough, there were six employees both times, and two or three didn’t seem to be doing anything at that moment.
They were Kitsap County crews, and I asked what the job assignments were and what required six people.
The out basket: Jeff Shea, county traffic engineer, supplies the answer:
“Our markings crew is made up of one permanent employee, and five to seven participants in our college summer help program,” he said, referring me to the online site www.kitsapgov.com/pw/summer_students.htm to learn more about it. Among the information is that there are 55 such jobs paying between $9.47 and $12.87 an hour.
“We no longer use painted markings,” Jeff continued. “All of our arrows, crosswalks, and stop lines are now applied with a durable material called thermoplastic. Thermoplastic markings last longer than paint. The end result is less frequent maintenance. It stands up to traffic much better.
“The application process for the thermoplastic is totally different then the painting process. The process is labor-intensive and we look for ways to maximize the potential of each work crew.
“At large multi-lane intersections, we commonly use six employees and two work vehicles to replace pavement markings. During the set-up phase, two to three employees use one vehicle to set up traffic control signs. The remaining employees use the other vehicle to ‘cone off’ traffic lanes and turn the traffic signal to an all-way stop flashing red.
“The employees remain in two groups. One group uses a grinder to remove the old markings. As they are doing that, the second group is marking out and installing the new thermoplastic marking. This allows the crew to work at different legs of the intersection and limit the amount of time the intersection is ‘down.’
“We use four torches to pre-heat the asphalt and melt the thermoplastic markings on the asphalt. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes for traffic to drive on it.
“There may be times when staff are not physically doing something. We have a very good crew leader who orchestrates tasks to get the most from his crew. Because these operations are so labor intensive we utilize the summer help staff. Their level of experience varies, and they are learning techniques ‘on-the-job”.’ which can limit the efficiency at times.
“There sometimes is a lag as the first group grinds and the second groups waits for that spot to be ready for application. Most intersections have several different markings that need application, and two groups seem to get the most production from the crew. That being said, we are using the information you provided to help us analyze how we do things and see if there is a better approach to this type of work.”