Another day at the office for a Missouri Department of Transportation worker was almost his last. Justin Sundell, a seven-year MoDOT maintenance worker from southeast Missouri’s Salem, recalls flagging drivers to stop in a work zone when he noticed a car that was not slowing down.
Sundell attempted to slow him down by waving his stop paddle. Then came the screeching of tires and brakes.
“If he would have struck the vehicle I had stopped, it would have shoved the vehicle into me,” Sundell says during a press conference this week in Jefferson City to recognize National Work Zone Awareness Week.
Once Sundell let the stopped cars drive away, the driver who nearly hit him pulled up alongside Sundell and screamed “Why are you out here flagging with no signs?”
Sundell says the driver had his phone in his hand the entire time and missed three signs alerting motorists to prepare to stop.
“I’m begging people, when you’re driving a motor vehicle, please buckle up and put your phone down. We all want to go home safe each and every single night,” he says.
State law requires motorists to move over when they see flashing lights used by first responders, state workers and tow truck drivers. Is Missouri’s “Move Over Law” working?
From 2012 to 2017, 59 people were killed in work zone crashes on state and local highways in Missouri. Since 2000, MoDOT has lost 19 workers in the line of duty. According to Missouri State Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Sandy Karsten, 17 state troopers were struck roadside in Missouri in 2017.
According to MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna, a work zone crash occurs every 5.4 minutes in the United States. He says work zone collisions are climbing nationwide and calls the issue a national epidemic. He points to the rise of cell phones as one of the most significant changes in the last decade.
The Missouri Department of Transportation is gearing up for its busy road construction season by increasing its safety measures. Workers will be using in more work zones rumble strips on roads and red and blue lights on contractor vehicles, especially heavily-traveled routes and winding paths.
The cost of flashing lights is about $550 per vehicle and $9,500 for a set of six rumble strips. Len Toenjes, president of Missouri Associated General Contractors, says he wishes the added expenses weren’t necessary.
“This doesn’t cost MoDOT anything. It costs the people who are paying MoDOT everything. It costs the people driving, who are paying their fuel taxes, who are paying their fees, those are dollars that go into protective materials rather than concrete, asphalt, roadways, bridges, all the things that we really need to be spending that money on. There again, the more people pay attention, the more we can dedicate resources to long-term things rather than spending it on protecting people,” Toenjes says.
During heavy road construction season, expect several work zones on Interstates 70, 44, 64, 55, 270, and U.S. Route 65.
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