November 18, 2018

The Orange Construction Barrel

As the old saying goes, there are two seasons in most Northern States, winter and road construction.  Nothing seems to symbolize the change of seasons as the dreaded orange barrel along the highway.  Orange barrels are manufactured according to strict government standards that prevent them from penetrating a vehicle during a high speed collision.  They are far safer than their predecessors – the old metal 55 gallon drums.

Industry-wide, as many as 750,000 orange barrels are produced annually at a cost of roughly $120.00 per barrel.  A little simple math will tell you that this is a $90,000,000 million dollar industry.  In the early 1990’s, a 25 pound tire collar was added that anchors the barrel in place.  Previously the orange barrels contained 50 pounds of sand, which made the task of setting up construction zones laborious and time consuming.  Because the industry is so competitive, it is difficult to get too much information.  At present, there are about a dozen companies that sell the orange barrels in the United States.

Construction barrels are traffic control devices used to channel motor vehicles through construction sites.  Plastic barrels that are commonly seen on American roadways today began emerging in the late 1970s and 1980s.  The steel 55 gallon drums were largely phased out in the 1990s.  Construction barrels are typically bright orange and have four alternating white and orange reflective bands.  Most now have a rubber base that prevents the barrel from tipping over during high winds or when struck by a vehicle.

It should come as no surprise that with 750,000 new orange barrels being produced each year that there is an unbelievable amount of barrels in the United States.  Michigan alone is estimated to have approximately 2.5 million barrels.  Many of these barrels, when not in use, are stored in an absolutely gigantic storage facility near Grayling, Michigan.

I am afraid that we must adjust to living with these barrels as it seems as if road construction will be with us forever.  As quickly as we repair our roads, new projects surface just as quickly.  As part of the 2011 Federal budget, the Department of Transportation has allocated 793 billion dollars for mandatory outlays to improve our deteriorating road system in the United States.  Recently, a cartoon in the State of Ohio recognized the orange barrel as the State Symbol.  Not a bad idea for Michigan either.

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Written by
Donald Wittmer

DONALD WITTMER is a retired business executive who held key roles in the automotive and banking sectors. For a time, he also served as a Fiscal Agency Manager for the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree from Cincinnati's Xavier University, an M.A. in business management from Central Michigan University, and earned certification in bank operations from the School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A husband, father, and grandfather, he teaches part-time at the Kent Place School for Girls in Summit, New Jersey.

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Written by Donald Wittmer