You’re driving along on your merry way to work or the store, then suddenly you see it.

First, the sign alerting you there’s a work zone ahead, then one lane gets coned off, forcing everybody into one lane.

Interestingly though, you may drive for miles like this, before you finally come to one small work area, where a few guys are digging a hole or patching a pothole.

So why, you might be wondering, was everybody squeezed together in slow-down mode for such a long time?

“When a work zone is established and a lane gets conned off, the DOT is trying to make sure that we’re setting something up in a way that we have the least amount of disruption to traffic, while maintaining the safest environment for the workers,” said Steve Schapiro, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

He said a lane may be coned for a long stretch, for no obvious reason to drivers, because “oftentimes we have moving operations, where the work that they’re doing is not just in one place, but is going to continue along some length of road. Their work zone is going to move a little bit.”

“It’s much easier to set up the work zone to begin, and let them work, as opposed to work a little bit, stop, re-set the zone, work a little bit, re-set the zone,” he said.

But what about when a lane is coned off for miles and workers are only in one small location?

Schapiro said different projects require different setups.

“There may be a variety of factors that require it to be coned off or developed that way, so unfortunately I can’t give a specific answer to that,” he said.

According to Schapiro, lanes get coned off in work zones, barriers are positioned and electronic signage is set up according to federal highway administration guidelines.

“Also, in New Jersey we also have our own work zone safety setup guide that goes beyond what the federal highway administration is recommending," Schapiro said.

That guide doesn't specifically address why a lane would be coned off for several miles if work was being done in one isolated area.

"Wvery project, we look at the unique factors of that roadway — things like how many lanes, speed limits, exits, so there’s no one-size-fits-all explanation," Schapiro said.

He added whenever there’s a coned off area, it means DOT workers are making repairs and drivers should slow down.

“It’s really important for everyone’s safety — both for the motorist, but also for the workers' safety as well. They’re out there working hard, improving our roads and bridges,” he said.

“I know everybody wants to get where they’re going, but the important thing is to get where you’re going safely, and slowing down is really key to that, as well as really paying attention," Schapiro said. "Distracted driving is such a challenge these days."

“Slowing down a few miles an hour through a work zone is not going to really delay your trip very much at all.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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