Roadway construction plates are one of those ubiquitous features of urban life that you see all the time, but never really notice. Chances are, you would never give them a second thought, until they caused you an unfortunate experience.
First, what are they? They are large steel plates, usually about an inch thick. Their size can vary, but they’re usually rectangular and often around 4′ wide and 8′ long. And they’re heavy – even a modest-sized roadway plate can weigh 1000 pounds.
Contractors use roadway construction plates to cover open trenches and excavations in streets and sidewalks. With roadway plates in place, normal pedestrian and vehicular traffic can resume on a street or sidewalk that has been opened. Roadway plates are supposed to be temporary. But like scaffolds and sidewalk bridges, they seem to appear out of nowhere and hang around forever. Contractors often weld their company name or initials into the surface of their plates to make clear who owns them.
The Safety Hazards Presented by Roadway Construction Plates
The typical roadway construction plate may look pretty harmless. But appearances can be deceiving. Roadway construction plates, if not properly installed and maintained, are very dangerous and a frequent cause of serious injuries – most often to bicyclists and motorcyclists.
The primary safety hazard is that a smooth and flat steel surface has a very low coefficient of friction. In other words, it’s slippery. And when a smooth steel surface is wet, it’s practically friction-less. A flat steel plate is inherently unsafe for pedestrians and vehicles. It has to be made safe by increasing the coefficient of friction of its surface. Only then does a flat steel plate become a proper roadway construction plate.
The secondary safety hazard presented by roadway construction plates concerns their installation. Improperly installed roadway construction plates make for an uneven road or sidewalk surface. For pedestrians roadway plates can present a tripping hazard. For bicyclists and motorcyclists roadway plates present a surface transition that can cause a loss of control.
Mitigating the Safety Hazards of Roadway Construction Plates
The solutions to the potential hazards of roadway construction plates are well-known. First, roadway plates have to be made “skid-resistant”. Usually this is done by applying an industrial anti-skid coating which is weather-proof and resistant to solvents commonly found on roadways, like oil and gasoline. Some roadway plate suppliers offer plates with surfaces that have been textured by means of a welding or machining process.
Second, roadway construction plates have to be installed with proper tapering to improve the surface transition. Usually this is done by “ramping” the edges of the roadway plates with asphalt. It can also be done by countersinking the roadway plate into the roadway surface to make the plate(s) flush to the existing surface.
Roadway plates can shift under heavy loads, exposing the excavation they are covering. So there must be consideration of the loads they will be exposed to and appropriate measures must be taken to prevent shifting, such as mechanically fastening them to the roadway surface. It is also good practice to paint the edges of roadway plates to improve visibility and to post advance warning signs, like “Roadway Plates Ahead” or “Uneven Road Surface”.
Regulations Concerning Roadway Construction Plates
In New York City roadway construction plate safety is a matter of law. To begin with, any contractor that excavates must have the appropriate license and must obtain a Street Opening Permit. 34 RCNY 2-11(a). Below are the key provisions of the regulations concerning the installation and use of roadway construction plates:
– Roadway construction plates “… shall have a skid-resistant surface equal to or greater than the adjacent existing street or roadway surface. The whole surface area of all plating and decking must be skid-resistant.” 34 RCNY 2-11(e)(10)(vi).
– Roadway construction plates must be, “… sufficiently ramped, covering all edges of the steel plates to provide smooth riding and safe condition.” 34 RCNY 2-11(e)(10)(i).
– All roadway construction plates “… must identify the name of the owner of such plating or decking. Identification must be made by welding or stamping the name of the owner onto the plating or decking.” 34 RCNY 2-11(e)(10)(viii).
– Roadway construction plates must be “… fastened by splicing, spiking, pinning, countersinking or otherwise protected to prevent movement.” 34 RCNY 2-11(e)(10)(iii).
– Roadway plates installed for use during the winter months shall have signs indicating the presence of “Steel Plates Ahead” and be countersunk flush to the level of the roadway. 34 RCNY 2-11(e)(10)(v).
Some Examples of Hazardous Roadway Construction Plates
Below is an image of a two roadway construction plates at the entrance to a bridge in Queens:
The surfaces of the two plates are “shiny” in parts and duller in other parts. The shiny parts are where the anti-skid coating has worn away. Those parts are bare metal. Also, the asphalt ramping has worn away in areas leaving a sharp transition that can cause a loss of control. There are no identifying marks on either of these plates.
Below is an image of a series of roadway construction plates that were used for a for a project in downtown Manhattan (the identifying marks have been obscured).
The deterioration of the anti-skid coating is especially obvious in the plate in the foreground of the photo. The lighter-colored “blotchy” areas are what remain of the anti-skid coating. Everything else is slick, bare metal. The key point is that roadway construction plates require periodic inspection and maintenance.
In both of the photos there is yet another aspect that compounds their danger. In both cases the roadway plates are situated in a location where a bicyclist or motorcyclist would naturally be turning. Staying upright while going straight on a bare-metal plate is difficult; staying upright while executing a turn is nearly impossible.
What Should You Do If You Suffer an Injury Because of a Roadway Construction Plate?
If you have been injured by a roadway construction plate there are a few things that you can do to help prove your case:
1. Get photos of the precise area where the incident occurred and any identifying marks on the roadway plates. If you can’t get photos right after the incident, return to the location as soon as you are able – preferably with your lawyer – and get high quality photos.
2. Describe the incident accurately to the first responders and medical personnel that assist you. This statement is not sufficient: “I fell off my bike.” This one is: “My bike slid on the roadway plate and I fell off.”
3. Don’t delay in hiring a lawyer. In some situations the roadway construction plates were installed by a municipal or state agency. In those cases a Notice of Claim has to be filed within 90 days of the incident. But even if a municipal agency isn’t involved, it’s wise to document the location of the incident as soon as possible, and that should be done with the assistance of your lawyer.
If you’ve been injured in an accident involving a roadway construction plate, contact us today for a free legal consultation.