The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

July 12, 2013

Special state program helps troopers guard work zones

Star Beacon

— A special state program means motorists who zip through construction work zones in Ashtabula County run a greater chance of seeing red and blue lights in their rear view mirrors.

For the past couple of weeks, the Ohio State Highway Patrol has been aggressively enforcing speed limits at highway work sites, particularly those along Interstate 90 in Conneaut and in the vicinity of the Route 11 interchange. More troopers are watching the zones in part due to a grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation geared to improving construction zone safety, said Lt. Jerad Sutton, superintendent at the Ashtabula County post.

“We received 800 extra hours,” he said Thursday.

Troopers are most active when highway workers are present, Sutton said. “We’re more focused on the work zone hours,” he said.

State funding allows the added enforcement to continue through October, Sutton said. By that time, ODOT is expected to wrap up its work in Conneaut. Come this fall, the department will have invested more than two years and $46 million rebuilding I-90, ramps and bridges between Conneaut Creek and the Pennsylvania line.

A short distance to the east, I-90 between routes 45 and 11 this year saw the start of $68 million facelift.

Just a short time into the enforcement program, troopers are finding “plenty” of violators, Sutton said. “People are definitely not going 55 mph,” he said.

Motorists who are cited feel a financial pinch, also. Fines can be doubled for offenses that occur inside highway work sites.

Sutton said other OHP posts have received ODOT funding, including Lake County and the Columbus area.

Local troopers regularly hear complaints about work zone infractions from highway workers and the motoring public, Sutton said. For that reason, the large number of violations troopers have already witnessed didn’t come as a shock, he said.

“I guess we’re not surprised,” Sutton said.

According to the ODOT website, seven highway workers have been killed in construction zone crashes between 2003 and 2012. Nearly 57,000 crashes occurred during that span, and workers were present when 20,590 of those crashes happened. Rear-end collisions accounted for almost 20,000 of the crashes, according to the website.

Following too closely is the biggest cause of construction zone crashes, trailed by failure to control and improper lane change, ODOT reported. Weather has little impact: Motorists are more likely to be hurt or killed in a work zone crash on a sunny August afternoon, according to the website.