PennDOT warning to drivers: Slow down in work zones

If the sight of orange construction barrels makes you see red, this is not going to be a pleasant summer for you. But police and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation are warning drivers not to channel their frustration into their accelerator pedals.

Amid the din of construction and traffic Thursday at routes 51 and 88 in Overbrook, officials urged drivers to obey lower speed limits and use extra caution while driving through construction zones.

"Please help keep yourself, your passengers and our workers safe during your travels," said Dan Cessna, PennDOT district executive. "Slow down and stay focused when traveling through work zones."

PennDOT is ramping up construction, maintenance and paving, helped in part by the funding bill approved last fall by the state Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett.

"We have a lot more going on this year than in the recent past," said Mr. Cessna, whose district covers Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties.

In addition to more than 100 road and bridge projects, PennDOT plans to pave 138.6 miles of state roads in Allegheny County this year, compared with 73 miles last year, spokesman Steve Cowan said.

Work zone crashes, fatalities and injuries were down significantly in Allegheny County last year. There were 164 crashes, two fatalities and 108 injuries, compared with 252 crashes, two fatalities and 152 injuries the year before.

Pennsylvania saw an increase in the number of work zone crashes, from 1,666 in 2012 to 1,845 last year, but fatalities declined from 21 to 16. Injuries were up, from 1,129 to 1,262.

Nationally, a long downward trend in work zone fatalities was reversed in 2011, with the death toll rising that year and again in 2012. Annual fatalities fell from 1,058 in 2005 to 586 in 2010, but rose to 590 in 2011 and to 609 in 2012, according to the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse. Figures for last year have not yet been compiled.

According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, 5 of every 6 work zone deaths are drivers and their passengers. About 100 construction workers are killed each year. Most crashes are caused by speeding, distracted or impaired driving and driver frustration, it said.

The 15th annual National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week is nearing its end, but enforcement of construction speed limits will go on, said Trooper Robin Mungo of the Pennsylvania State Police.

Exceeding a work zone speed limit by 11 mph or more brings a 15-day license suspension. Fines are doubled in work zones, and state law requires drivers to turn on their headlights while passing through them.

"The reduced speed limits are in effect even if there are no workers present," Trooper Mungo said. "A lot of people aren't aware of that."

State police will continue two enforcement programs, Operation Orange Squeeze on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Operation Yellow Jacket on other highways, she said. Both involve stationing troopers with radar guns in PennDOT construction trucks, with other troopers waiting beyond the work zone to pull over speeders.

Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog at Twitter: @pgtraffic. First Published April 10, 2014 11:37 PM

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