CEG Industry Blog

BLOG: What We Can Do to Protect Highway Construction Workers

why can’t some motorists recognize that highway workers who risk their lives to keep traffic moving, albeit slower than usual, are being given a gift of passage?

📅   Mon August 15, 2016 - Edition
Giles Lambertson


Industry statistics show that an average of 120 highway workers are killed each year, more than half of them the victims of speeding vehicles in work zones.
Industry statistics show that an average of 120 highway workers are killed each year, more than half of them the victims of speeding vehicles in work zones.

Industry statistics show that an average of 120 highway workers are killed each year, more than half of them the victims of speeding vehicles in work zones. There is a solution to these traffic deaths: Close any highway that has a construction crew working on it. All who favor such disruptive highway closures, raise your hand. Exactly. No one wants roads closed.

So why can't some motorists recognize that highway workers who risk their lives to keep traffic moving, albeit slower than usual, are being given a gift of passage? Why can't they do the right thing and pass work zones carefully instead of zipping past them with the same mindlessness that they pass a piece of trash on the side of the road?

Let's not waste time analyzing the thinking of zombie drivers. Rather, let's talk about precautions. How about including in a federal highway bill a requirement for barriers—instead of plastic cones—on federal highway projects? Well, actually, such a provision was part of the five-year transportation bill passed last year. Unfortunately, the administration has yet to implement that provision. Let's not waste time analyzing the thinking of federal administrators.

What can be done without an act of Congress is for state and local project owners to enact uniform barrier requirements for highway construction projects. Concrete lane dividers are effective deterrents to wayward cars. The “zipper” system of barriers is especially flexible in multi-lane situations. Government project owners should require barriers. Project bids should reflect barrier use instead of cones. Lives are at stake here.

Finally, traffic flow experts in highway administration offices can acknowledge a basic truth: Drivers are impatient. Work hours and traffic squeezing signage/barriers should reflect this understanding. The truth is, minimal disruption of traffic should be the byword in planning, not maximum protection of highway workers, for they are one and the same. Frustrated drivers more often kill. Tamping down frustrations reduces the killing. Traffic planners must be part of the solution.