Inferring Heterogeneous Treatment Effects of Work Zones on CrashesAuthor/Presenter: Zhang, Zhuoran; Akinci, Burcu; Qian, Sean
The increasing number of work zone crashes has been a significant concern for road users, transportation agencies, and researchers. Crashes can be caused by work zones, and this effect changes across different work zone configurations, traffic volumes, roadway functional classifications, and weather conditions. This is typically represented by Crash Modification Functions (CMFunctions). However, current methods for developing work zone CMFunctions have two major limitations: (1) They focus on analyzing statistical associations and fail to mitigate the confounding bias due to possible unobservable roadway characteristics; and (2) They cannot address CMFunctions of multiple variables simultaneously, such as weather and traffic conditions, since they are represented using mixed data types (continuous and categorical) that could potentially affect the causal effect of work zones on crashes. In this study, we develop a method that utilizes causal forest with fixed-effect modeling to mitigate the confounding bias while identifying CMFunctions conditioning on various environmental characteristics, including work zone configurations, traffic volume, roadway functional classification, and weather conditions. The developed method was applied to 3378 work zones that occurred in Pennsylvania between 2015 and 2017. The results were validated via a series of robustness tests. The validations demonstrate that this method can mitigate the confounding bias and identify CMFunctions of multiple variables. The results also show that the causal effect of a work zone on crash occurrence is significantly positive () on roadways with high traffic volumes (e.g., 20,000 vehicles per day) and on medium length (e.g., 2000 to 5000 m) work zones. It appears that having medium–long (e.g., between 6000 and 8000 m) work zones or long duration (e.g., longer than 4 h) work zones do not necessarily lead to extra crashes.