It’s National Work Zone Awareness Week, and the Missouri Department of Transportation has launched a campaign to increase public consciousness.
With driver inattention being the number one cause of work zone accidents last year, MoDOT is asking those behind the wheel to discard cell phones while traveling in construction areas.
It’s adopted the slogan “Make Work Zones No Phone Zones”. Department worker Jeff Caffey spoke during a news conference Monday at the agency’s Jefferson City maintenance facility, where he recalled various activities he’s observed drivers engaged in.
“It’s unreal to see the motorists driving from people reading newspapers, putting on makeup, talking on their phones, texting, computers. I mean I’ve seen people reading books.” Caffey described an accident where a drunk driver came within five feet of where he was working.
Len Toenjes with Associated General Contractors of Missouri noted road workers are often abused by motorists.
“Construction workers, unfortunately, are the cause of people taking an extra five minutes to get to work” Toenjes said. “So they get beer cans. They get hair brushes. The get all the things thrown at them while they’re in the work zones. It’s another unfortunate part of being out there in that environment.”
Toenjes said many work zone crashes are linked to cell phone use, texting and drive thru fast food. He added navigation systems are also a dangerous distraction. Eight workers were killed in Missouri work zone crashes last year, 43 between 2010 and 2016 on state and local system routes.
Every spring, MoDOT prepares for a busy summer season of construction and maintenance work across the state. Agency director Patrick McKenna also attended the news conference, where he pointed out how the need for highway repairs has mounted over the years.
“As you drive across our great state this summer, you’re bound to encounter a work zone. Our aging roads and bridges continue to need repair and replacement.”
MoDOT identifies I-70 as a roadway in crisis. It was designed for a 20 year lifespan, and is now almost 50 years old, with portions strained beyond capacity. The department says it also has deteriorating pavement and poorly functioning interchanges.
Missouri interstates and major roads will have 21 work zones this year – five on I-70, three on I-44 and 13 on other interstates and major routes. Although much of the work will be done at night to avoid traffic, some projects require long term lane closures to replace old pavement and bridges.
McKenna identified two spots on I-44 where lanes would be reduced for extended periods. One is over Spring Creek southwest of Springfield where bridge improvements will limited traffic to one lane in each direction until fall 2017.
The other is in St. Louis County and City where pavement and bridge improvements will close one lane in both directions around the clock until the end of the year.
MoDOT Central District Engineer David Sylvester led the news conference. He said the road projects are where highway workers have “their offices. This is where they come to work every day. It’s got to be as safe as we can make it. We can set up the work zones to get people past. We need folks to pay attention to that.”
State Highway Patrol Superintendent Colonel Sandy Karsten also attended the news conference.