Drop phones, drive down work zone crashes
More than a third of construction zone accidents in Portage County the past five years occurred last year, and 37 percent of those resulted in injuries, according to preliminary 2016 state statistics.
County road construction workers are asking motorists to pay more attention, and hope that a new law passed in October 2016 will help reduce those numbers.
“The most dangerous thing I see is texting drivers, distracted drivers,” said Randy Piotrowski, county highway department patrolman for state highway work. “The work zones aren’t very long. Put the phone down. It will be a short ride, it will be a safe ride.”
Travelers and commuters through town soon will see orange barrels, flashing arrows and merging signs dot the landscape as road construction season begins. The county expects about $7.5 million in projects to be completed this season, including crack filling, chip sealing, road reconstruction and resurfacing, general maintenance with brushing, shouldering and sign repairs or replacements, and the County Highway G bridge project.
Another six state projects will be done, and in addition, county highway workers will be conducting maintenance projects on five state highways throughout the season.
“It will be another busy year for our workers and travelers,” Portage County Highway Commissioner Nathan Check said following the county’s declaration of the week of April 3 through April 9 as “Work Zone Awareness Week.”
“These efforts are to highlight the vulnerability of our highway workers who work along our roads everyday, as well as to protect the motorist,” he said. “In reality, motorists and their passengers are the most common work zone fatalities.”
Much is due to inattentiveness of drivers, said County Road Foreman Roger Roth.
“It’s amazing the stuff we see,” he said. “I just saw a woman at the four-way stop at Porter,” he said. “She was texting and blew right through the stop signs, didn’t even look.”
Though no highway workers were injured last year, there was a close call. An inattentive driver swiped an orange barrel, sending it into a highway worker, Piotrowski said. The driver and the highway worker could have been hurt.
More than 11 percent of fatal crashes between 2011 and 2015 in Portage County were related to inattention, and another 37 percent were speed related, according to statistics presented at the county Traffic Safety Committee meeting March 7. A majority of the non-fatal injury crashes in the county – nearly 78 percent – occur on local and state/U.S. highways.
There are 1,899 miles of roads in the county, of which 157, or 12.5 percent, are state roads; 433 or 19 percent, are county roads; and 1,309, or 68 percent, are local roads.
Highway Department workers remind motorists that Wisconsin Act 305, which was implemented Oct. 1, 2016, makes it illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving in a Wisconsin road work zone. Drivers caught in violation face fines of up to $40 on first offense and $100 for subsequent offenses.
Roth also asked motorists to be aware of the signs of construction. Signage warning of upcoming construction zones are usually posted 1 1/2 miles before the work zone begins, barrels are erected, additional signage for distance and merging are displayed, and often there are lighted arrows for guidance as well.
Motorists should give themselves time to merge rather than waiting until the last foot, and drop their speed at least 10 miles per hour lower than the normally posted speed limit.
“So many people come through and don’t see them (signs),” Roth said. “You’ve got less than a mile (of construction). What does it take when you’re going 55 (mph)? A minute. Just slow down.”
Upcoming construction projects are:
State System Projects
* Culvert replacement on I-39 just north of County D
* Resurfacing I-39 northbound from County O to Highway 54
* Road surface repairs on U.S. 10 from Country Club Drive to Badger Avenue
* Bridge rehabilitation/repairs of the Little Eau Pleine River Bridge on Highway 34
* Painting of the bridges that were resurfaced last year along I-39
* Stevens Point Hoover Overpass construction project
* Installing an over height detection system on Highway 66/Stanley Street at I-39
* Railroad structure on Country Club Drive
County Highway Department Projects
* Mill Creek Bridge replacement on County G. Highway G will be closed during this project. Estimated construction date is May through September.
* Highway J Reconstruction. Reconstruction from U.S. Highway 10 to Highway 66 includes reconstructing the entire roadway, widening the road base, replacing all culverts and cutting back the hill at the south end of the project. Highway J will be closed to through traffic during construction. Estimated construction date is April through November.
* Highway SS resurfacing. The project consists of resurfacing the road between Highway 161 and Highway Q, replacing deficient culverts and replacing signage. Highway SS will be closed to through traffic. Estimated construction date is April through May.
* Continuation of Highway P project from 2016. Project is between Highway G north to Highway G south and consists of removing concrete base, replacing and repairing deficient culvert pipes and catch basins, repairing and replacing curb, paving, shouldering and sign replacement.
Highway P will be closed during construction and a detour will be provided. Residences and businesses in the construction area will have access. Estimated construction date is August through October.
* Chip sealing across the county. About 55 miles of roads will be chip sealed throughout the county. Most roads will remain open to motorists. Currently, major roads including Highway B are being evaluated for closure during chip sealing. Estimated construction date is July through August.
Additional information on specific projects can be found at www.co.portage.wi.us/highway. There will also be additional information posted regarding the multiple state maintenance projects that the county will be performing in 2017.
Any questions may be directed to the Portage County Highway Department at 715-345-5230.