WARSAW — Officials with the Indiana Department of Transportation and their colleagues at the county and city levels are taking time this week to bring awareness to road work construction sites and the dangers they present to not only florescent jacket-clad workers, but motorists as well.
Nichole Hacha-Thomas, media relations director for INDOT’s Fort Wayne District, said Gov. Eric Holcomb proclaimed April 8-12 as National Work Zone Awareness Week.
“This is a week celebrated every year at the ceremonial beginning of the construction season and state DOTs, county DOTs, highways departments and city street departments — we all kind of join together for the common cause, which is reminding drivers that there are human beings working in the work zone and that while the work zone may be frustrating to you, the driver, it’s where we work,” Hacha-Thomas said.
‘”It’s what we do on a daily basis to improve the infrastructure for Hoosier drivers. The theme this year is Drive Like You Work Here.”
Hacha-Thomas said the aim of the theme is to put the road construction shoe on the foot of those who drive in work zones as if their own feet were lined with lead.
“We make sure we adhere to the utmost in safety while we’re in the work zone and we want drivers to do the exact same thing,” she said.
Wayne Orcutt, operations manager with INDOT’s Elkhart sub-district, said a well-crafted plan to protect workers is created for every work zone.
“Before we come out here, we map out the proper work zone set up,” he said. “We’re trying to make a dividing line between our work area and where it’s safe for the public to go through our work area. But, we also train our guys on a daily basis to plan for the ‘what if.’ What if something does go wrong to where if they hear a cone get hit? Instead of looking over their shoulder, they’re already getting to a safe escape route. If somebody is traveling through the work zone right now at 70 miles per hour, it breaks down to like 108 feet per second. So, even if you were really good in track in high school, it’s just not going to do it.”
Before one ounce of asphalt is placed in a pothole on any Indiana road, signage and traffic cones are placed well in advance in an effort to forewarn motorists long before they even see a bright green vest.
“So often, especially when we get into peak travel times and the travel season and we get backups, we’ll have someone who is distracted who will run into slowed or stopped traffic,” said Sgt. Ted Bohner of the Indiana State Police. “But, these worksites are not a surprise, they don’t just pop up out of nowhere.”
According to Hacha-Thomas and Bohner, advanced warning doesn’t just show up on the road. Road construction sites are listed in public notifications, on INDOT maps and by way of a computer or mobile phone application available from INDOT.
“The two most important things that drivers can do are to slow down in the work zone,” said Hacha-Thomas. “Studies show that slowing down in a work zone adds up to a minute to your commute. If you think about one minute — is that worth your life or someone else’s life? Probably not. The second thing is paying attention to the signs. There are a lot of signs in a work zone and they’re there for a reason.”
Hacha-Thomas said work zone fatalities in 2018 declined from the previous year. In 2017, there were 28 deaths on Indiana roads with six of those deaths being motorists. In 2018, one motorist was among the 14 people killed on Hoosier work zones.