Coralville Police step up enforcement in I-80 work zone

Lee Hermiston Iowa City Press-Citizen April 15, 2009

The Coralville Police Department has a message for motorists going through the construction zone on Interstate 80: slow down.

Since construction began three weeks ago on the stretch of Interstate 80 that runs through Coralville, police have dedicated an officer solely to do traffic enforcement on the road. The Iowa Department of Transportation is in its third phase of widening Interstate 80 to six lanes.
After running into numerous traffic-related difficulties during the first phase of the project in 2007, IDOT requested in 2008 that Coralville place an officer in the construction zone, Coralville Police Lt. Bruce Freeman said.
"It was shut down all the time," Freeman said of the interstate in 2007. "The Iowa Department of Transportation looked at it before they started the construction season last year and decided there was a need for further enforcement."
Freeman said an officer dedicated to traffic enforcement is on Interstate 80 from about 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., or whenever construction crews are on the scene. Freeman said IDOT is picking up the tab for an officer to patrol the roadway 40 hours a week.
IDOT officials said working with local jurisdictions to enhance the police presence in construction zones is not uncommon.
"Generally, we request extra enforcement when we ... feel it's in the public's best interest to spend some bucks to ensure we have enforcement on our projects during peak traffic times," said Mark Bortle, Traffic Safety Engineer for the IDOT Office of Construction.
Cathy Cutler, IDOT transportation planner for District 6, which includes Johnson County, said IDOT often will turn to police when reducing the speed limit and posting signs do little to correct problem driving. However, Cutler said officials are careful to make sure that increasing police enforcement doesn't making the roadway more hazardous.
Freeman said officers dedicated to I-80 are primarily doing speed enforcement, using radar and laser units. Freeman estimated officers already have written about 200 citations.
"I would say 95 percent of them are for speeding," he said.
And, if potentially running late getting home or to an appointment isn't reason enough to slow down, Freeman said last year the Legislature bumped up fines for speeding in a construction zone. Fines range from $248 to $1,370, depending on a motorist's speed.
"They're definitely getting people's attention," Freeman said.
Despite the increased fines and police presence, Freeman said motorists have been mostly understanding about the police presence.
"Once you talk to the people and explain to them why we're out there, they're pretty positive," Freeman said.