Construction begins on county roads, with safety stressed
The orange barrels are already dotting roadways across the county signally the start of road construction season.
This year, Portage County will see about $5.7 million worth of work in general maintenance, crack-filling/chip-sealing and reconstruction/resurfacing along about 75 miles. There also are state Department of Transportation (DOT) projects including Interstate 39 that motorists will have to be aware of as well as individual projects in different municipalities.
In addition to the general awareness of road construction, drivers are reminded that Assembly Bill 198 signed by Gov. Scott Walker bans the use of handheld cell phones in highway maintenance or construction and utility work areas where workers are present and at risk from traffic.
“Please slow down, pay attention and be aware of your surroundings,” Portage County Highway Commissioner Nathan Check said. “It is imperative for people to understand that drivers and their passengers experience the majority of injuries and fatalities in work zone accidents.”
Last year there were three county workers in the state killed in work zones, and one of Portage County’s most serious accidents occurred in October 2010 when a vehicle traveling too fast for conditions lost control and struck highway employee Paul Tufte, throwing him 20 feet and pinning him under the wheel.
Tufte, who has taken the last five and a half years recovering physically and mentally, is back on the road doing the job he loves, but the incident has changed him.
“Once that happens, it sticks with you,” he said. “You lose that comfort of trust, not that anyone is overly comfortable to begin with, but it changes your life forever … it’s scary.”
After the accident, Tufte was out for eight months, then slowly came back to work two hours here and another two hours there, working his way back through the use of a cane, rides to work – just being in a car traveling brought bouts of anxiety, he said – and after more than three years, he could physically resume his duties completely. He still works on the lingering anxiety and stress, for which he completed treatment just this past winter.
“It was a few seconds that went wrong and it’s knocked you out of whack the rest of your life,” he said. “These aren’t bad people, they’re just in a hurry. They need to know to slow down.”
“Unfortunately, there appears to be a disturbing trend amongst the driving public which isn’t necessarily specific to Portage County,” Check said. “Speed and distracted driving continues to be a concern, and the crash statistics are beginning to prove it.”
In Wisconsin in 2014, 2,274 construction zone crashes occurred, with 12 fatalities and 629 injuries, according to the state DOT website. The number of crashes jumped nearly 40 percent over the previous year’s 1,596 construction zone crashes.
When it happened to Tufte, state road foreman Chuck Kawlewski was flagging at the other end. He was one of the few workers that day who could not go to Tufte’s aid, and it was a very difficult spot to be in, he said. But he knew his job was to keep traffic stopped so the ambulance could come, emergency personnel could stabilize Tufte and drive him two blocks to the Flight for Life helicopter.
“We’re a team,” he said. “Any time I’m out there, you’re always thinking that you’ve always got to watch for the other guy.”
That includes motorists, they said.
“We’re there trying to make things better,” Tufte said. “It’s not just about keeping the workers safe, it’s keeping them safe too.”
Signage will be up indicating lane closures, road work and if necessary detours.
Portage County projects, detours and length of projects are:
County Road T (County Road B to Elkins Road) Reconditioning, 1.62 miles. Project Description: County Road T reconstruction will consist of removing trees, pulverizing existing asphalt base, add gravel where needed and repaving of asphalt driving surface. Deficient culverts will be replaced. Minor reshaping of ditches and slopes will occur as needed. New signs and pavement markings will be installed.
County Road T will be closed to through-traffic during construction. Access will be provided to adjacent residences and businesses as well as emergency vehicles during construction, but all other traffic should utilize alternate routes. The estimated construction date is May through August.
County Road P through Junction City Reconstruction, just under a mile. Project Description: Pulverize existing asphalt pavement, remove concrete, replace and repair deficient culvert pipes and catch basins, repair and replace curb, add gravel as needed, shape base, asphalt paving, gravel shouldering, sign replacements and pavement markings.
County Road P will be closed during construction, and a detour will be provided. Access will be provided to adjacent residences and businesses as well as emergency vehicles during construction, but all other traffic should utilize the detour. The estimated construction date is mid-July through October.
County Road HH Resurfacing (Post Road to Hoover Avenue), 2.18 miles. Project Description: Mill existing asphalt pavement partial depth, replace/repair deficient manholes and catch basins, asphalt paving, sign replacements and pavement markings.
County Road HH will remain open to traffic with one lane in each direction during construction. The estimated construction date is April.
2016 Chip Sealing, about 72 miles of county highways. Project Description: Deficient culverts will be replaced, cracks will be filled with rubber crack filler. Road repairs will be wedged with asphalt prior to the chip seal process. New pavement markings will be installed.
These roads will remain open to local traffic during chip sealing and sweeping with reduced advisory speed limits. Traffic is encouraged to utilize alternate routes until all roads are swept.
The county has maps available for viewing to see which roads will be affected. The estimated construction date is early July through August.