The life cycle of an orange construction cone

You'd have to be living under a rock in the middle of the Amazon Rain Forest to not know it is construction season in the Rogue Valley.


While my husband and I were driving recently on Highway 62, there seemed to be even more barrels out than earlier in the week.


My husband joked that construction cones and barrels are like rabbits — there is never just one by itself, which led us to trace the life cycle of the orange cone.


A cone starts out in a gymnasium at some elementary school, a small, foot-tall, plastic, orange cone used for obstacle courses. When it graduates, it is used in driver education courses — still a standard orange cone, no markings, no features.


If a cone survives driver education, where it's on an obstacle course with huge vehicles heading right toward it, it deserves an award: two white reflective stripes.


Once the reflective stripes are applied, it is qualified to become a construction cone for use in front of a pot hole. All this time, never alone. And just like us humans after we are out of driver education, we are flirting with the ones who interest us. The next thing you know, there are three cones, then four cones, etc.


The cone has reached a point in life where it realizes it needs to work on its body. The adolescent shape was fine, but now it is time to grow up. It becomes a thin, narrow barrel only about 8 inches wide, and the white reflective stripes become just white stripes. Now it finds a home at a construction work site, with several other thin barrels. It is used to direct traffic for short-term road closures. It does the assigned job and goes home every night.


As time goes by, things get a bit sluggish and tend to expand. This once nonthreatening, one-foot cone in a gymnasium becomes a 3-by-4-foot barrel, very large and stout, but still proud to display the white stripes earned in its youth. The barrel still performs its duty at construction sites, but is left out overnight on long-term projects, not going home at the end of the work day. It is not very happy about this and starts to appear slightly different, slightly threatening. It tends to crowd the lane, just on the line.


Over time, as it gets even older, assistance is needed, so it gets a flashing orange light on top. The final career stage for this orange and white symbol of the construction scene is a stint as full lane-closure barricade — a “You Shall Not Pass” guard with hands on hips and a stern look on its face.


After a lifetime of challenges, surgery is sometimes required. The veteran barricade that survives to this point is often reinforced with plywood, fiberglass and metal rods. It finds its retirement by making a quiet living on dead-end streets and such. It is occasionally pulled out of retirement and placed back on a construction crew for a week or two, but it always returns to the tranquility of its slow and uneventful retirement on dead-end streets. Thus is the life cycle of this renowned symbol of road construction.


Laura DeVries lives in Trail.

Share This Story