State DOT, police speak on road work safety

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NICOLE L. CVETNIC / Observer-Dispatch
Flagger Jeremy Streeter directs traffic in a work zone along State Route 31 near Joel's Front Yard Steak House, Monday, April 27, 2009 in Verona. The New York State Department of Transportation reminded motorists of work zone safety during a press conference.
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Posted Apr 27, 2009 @ 01:22 PM
Last update Apr 27, 2009 @ 03:22 PM
Police and highway officials today made their annual appeal to motorists to slow down in highway work zones.
Officials from the state Department of Transportation and the New York State Police held a press conference near the intersection of Routes 31 and 365 in Verona, where an active highway project provided a backdrop to their discussion of construction zone safety.
“Just like our blooming landscape, the arrival of orange barrels and roadwork like you see behind me are reminders that Spring is here,” said Michael Shamma, state DOT regional director.
Drivers are encouraged to obey posted speed limits and follow instructions from flaggers at all times.
Shamma added that because of the federal economic recovery package, 2009 could be “one of the most active highway construction seasons in recent memory.”
“At DOT, we talk about highway safety in terms of the three Es:” Shamma said. “Engineering, education and enforcement.”
Engineering considerations include performing work during off-peak travel hours, setting reduced speed limits in work zones, and providing up-to-date construction information on the DOT Web site to help people find alternate routes, he said.
Shamma said he once worked as a construction flagger early in his career and remembered drivers that seemed to be “playing a game,” trying to drive as close to him as possible without hitting him.
“I feel for these guys,” he said. “It’s not easy.”
State Police Capt. Francis Coots said police officers see traffic violations in work zones on a daily basis, especially speeding and driving while using cell phones, and that many motorists don’t want to be inconvenienced even for a few minutes.
“We want people to realize all they have to do is slow down a little bit,” he said. “If you take your time and be patient you’ll get through it safely.”
The Work Zone Safety Act of 2005 mandated a greater police presence in work zones and a 60-day license suspension for anyone with two or more violations, he said. Traffic fines also are doubled within work zone areas.
Coots also said that construction flaggers have the same authority to direct traffic as police officers and should be treated accordingly.
Scott Owens, a representative from the New York chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America, also spoke at Monday’s event.
“Highway construction work zones, by their nature, leave drivers less margin of error when accidents or incidents do occur,” Owens said.
He asked all drivers to slow down and obey signs “to ensure that people can return home to their families.”
Shamma said about 1,000 motorists are killed each year in roadway work zones nationwide, and 80 percent of those fatalities are drivers.
Timothy Casey, regional manager for Rifenburg Construction, Inc., said the first three weeks of his firm’s project on Route 31 have been without incident, however.
“I think everyone for the most part has been very cooperative,” he said. “No complaints.”
The project, which was underway just feet from the site of Monday’s press conference, will widen and resurface the roadway and replace a bridge across Mud Creek and a traffic signal at the intersection with Route 365. Casey said work will continue into the fall.