Dear PoPville – Can Construction Workers Stop Cars At Will?

Dear PoPville,

Every morning, I drive down 9th Street to work downtown. For months, I’ve accepted the traffic delays from the construction sites at O Street (City Market), L Street (new hotel) and K-H Street (City Center), since ultimately the projects will make the area so much better.

But there’s something that drives me crazy. These construction sites each have workers equipped with stop signs who stop traffic whenever they want so they can move their construction vehicles in and out at will. An official traffic officer would take into account the flow of traffic and the needs of all drivers, pedestrians and construction crew in determining how often or when to stop traffic. These unofficial traffic directors just do it whenever they feel like it. Especially in the thick of rush hour, this can cause total chaos.

You’ll see the light is red when the picture was taken (see above), but the “traffic officer” kept cars held up through the green light so that construction trucks could zip in and out. This was at the hotel site on L Street. Holding traffic through a green light cycle causes gridlock and backup for several blocks.

My question — is this actually legal? I’m all for construction getting completed quickly, but if these construction companies need to work through rush hour, I think they should be more respectful of residents and commuters.

40 Comment

  • Try taking transit. 🙂

  • I was pulled over by a cop recently for failing to yield to a sign-wielding construction worker. (I did yield, but that’s another story.) I asked the officer this very question and was told that one is indeed required to obey these workers. I intended to look it up for myself but never got around to it.

    • There seem to be a lot of grey area. A cop once waved for me to proceed through a construction zone, then hopped on his motorcycle to pull me over for “evading him”. Went to court with a witness and everything but the charge wasn’t dismissed. When I see someone waving me on now I roll down my window and ask them specifically what they want me to do– it’s obnoxious but I think it’s necessary to avoid traps.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised that DCRA doesn’t make this a requirement for some of the bigger and more invasive projects.

  • I suppose its legal. What i hate is when they do this for trucks to pull partially through the intersection, but the construction site itself is so congested, that the trucks are actually in a queue and cant go anywhere… so they just sit there sitting out blocking most of the the street during the height of rush hour. Makes no sense. Sometimes they’re already just parked along the side of the street, why cant they just sit there until the site clears out some?

  • Totally agree! I drive the down 9th every morning and, last week, a construction worker walked into the middle of the road while the light was green at 9th & I, causing the oncoming traffice to slam on their breaks and subsequently resulting in an accident in the lane next to me. It seems like there has to be a better way to handle the movement of construction vehicles. I’m just not really sure what it is. The current way though seems thoughless and dangerous.

  • We all love new buildings and updated roadways. This is part of it. It’s not a fun job esp. in the heat.

    • Good point, and I agree that it’s not a fun job. That said, I also agree with the original poster that a bit of awareness as to when to post the stop/slow signs would benefit everyone: cars, pedestrians, and the safety of the monitors themselves. I too take 9th Street every morning, and there have been many moments of near chaos that could have been avoided by just trying to work within the lights to the extent possible.

  • Drive down 10th

  • On a related topic – some construction companies have commandeered the whole curb lane along a construction site and are using that to park their private vehicles (mostly from Maryland). I thought this was curtailed a few years ago and that only construction vehicles could park there, and like in NYC, construction sites must include a safe passage for pedestrians (probably under temporary covered walkway). If these construction workers want to work at a site that is usually withing a few blocks of a Metro Station, then they should commute in using public transportation.

    • Considering construction companies pay an extremely hefty fee to “rent” the curb lanes and parking lanes from the city, I would say the DCRA and DDOT are well aware of the practice.

      • I’m sure the fee they’re paying to “rent” the lane is then passed on to the developer or new condo owner

        • I’m sure the developer pays for the permit when he hires a contractor. These things are usually paid for by the owner/developer anyway. It’s a standard cost of doing business in the district.

    • I’ve built properties in DC.

      In order to “commandeer” the entire lane you actually have to pay for it. I’ve paid for months and months of sum total meter fees for parking spots on the street to occupy them with dumpsters, offices and reserved parking for contractors.

      And yes, the construction traffic management is required by DC regs and is approved via permit.

  • Yes, these Flag Men are legal and are actually required by DDOT as part of these construction project’s Traffic Management Plans. These plans are reviewed by DDOT as well as the ANCs. Certainly rush hour is a pain (I’ve been caught in traffic as well as a bunch of concrete and dump trucks make a run for it).

    To @o2bncdg’s question below – if you see lots of parking along a construction sute, you can report that to DDOT Public Space, as each project has strict limits to the amount of public space they use and DDOT has begun to curb the use of large spaces just for parking. Construction projects are notorious for “space creep” and if they’re now using space beyond their permits, the permit holders can be cited and fined for non-compliance. The key is to actual report the violation to the DDOT Public Space office.

    • The “key” is to actually report a vehicle if it is in violation. Just because a construction vehicle is parked in “public space” doesn’t mean that the driver isn’t paying for parking like everyone else.

  • There is definitely an entitlement mentality among construction workers that they deserve to park their personal vehicle within 30 feet of wherever they’re working, with no concern for carpooling or anything else.

    • Oh come on. How do you know they’re not carpooling? And besides, most of these workers live in places without good public transit, and have to bring tools and equipment and stuff to job sites. I hardly think wanting to commute home in an air-conditioned vehicle after a grueling day out in the heat is being entitled.

    • There is definitely an entitlement mentality amongst commuters who cannot have their trip in to work inconvenienced by – gasp – traffic and construction in a major metro area.

      As I read this entire post all I could think was “WAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

      Jesus people, you live in a city. Get over it.

  • Sounds as if it’s legal, but it may be a law worth changing!

  • Yes, taking public transit to job sites makes complete sense especially when you have to transport all your tools to complete your job on a daily basis. I would love to see framer carrying his air compressor, saw, nail gun and level in a shoulder bag on the metro. I don’t quite get the general public’s complaining when in order to gentrify the neighbors most would like to live in construction is necessary.

    • The simplicity of this thought-process is mind-boggling. Why is it mutually exclusive to live through construction that makes the neighborhood better, yet expect the construction company to respect drivers and pedestrians? Clogging up traffic at will the way they do is a safety and environmental hazard, in addition to being inconvenient.

    • HaileUnlikely

      I once saw a landscaper carrying a scythe on a metrobus in Wheaton – scared the f* out of me.

      • Allison

        Lol, the grim reaper is just trying out a new style to blend in more, m’kay?

        • I hope the Grim Reaper takes Metrobus when it’s my time – he’ll be so late, I could live a lot of extra years…. even better, if it’s on a snowy day, I could live forever!

  • This is an interesting legal question. Under what authority can a construction worker direct traffic? I’ve looked through the DC Code and the DCMR and so far I can see no authority for flagmen (flagwomen) to direct traffic. For instance, if the flagperson were to direct you through a red light and an accident occurred would you still be held liable?
    I’ll keep researching the issue, but I’d be interested to find out if other’s can cite to the authority.

      • Thanks – I’d seen that but it doesn’t get to the heart of the question. It does answer a different question (i.e. “What are the construction workers required to do in terms of traffic control?”) but it doesn’t answer the question of “what authority do these workers have to control the traffic.” I realize they sound like the same question but they’re very different.

        • I guess I’ll respond to my own post and say that under 18 DCMR 2100.2 the District of Columbia adopts the FHA’s MUTCD which includes Chapter 6E on flaggers.
          I’m not happy with this answer since I still feel like it falls short of stating the obligations of the driver to the flagger and instead focuses on the flagger’s obligations to the driver. We are left to assume that by adopting these standards the District is passing authority to the flagger, but I still feel like there’s another piece to this puzzle.

  • I’ve watched them do this on 14th St at the Louis construction site in the morning waiting for the bus. It’s really well choreographed – as soon as one full truck leaves, the waiting empty truck swings into action – it has to back in so the driver crosses over to the other side of the street to be able to back up at the correct angle…. the first time I saw it I thought “Uh oh, this will be a disaster” but the drivers and the guys directing the trucks and stopping the traffic seem to have it all pretty well under control, and it doesn’t seem to hold anyone up too long.

  • jesus people. just freaking yield to the signs.

  • The reality is that these flagmen are usually the lowest paid workers on a job site and more often than not these days are actually day labor contractors from places like Labor Ready. They are not some sort of coordinated team of traffic specialists with a detailed plan to accommodate rush hour traffic, buses, etc.

    They are paid a very low wage to stand there with a sign and when a truck comes, block traffic. That is the sum total of their job description. If they do that, they get to go home at the end of the day with a meager day’s pay earned and no injuries.

    Its frustrating to sit in a traffic jam caused by something like this, but its the reality of modern construction.

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