Fed Money Means More Roadwork But More Risk in N.H.

Fri June 19, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Holly Ramer




CONCORD, N.H. (AP) There’s a downside to all the federal stimulus money New Hampshire is getting for road construction projects — the risk of more work zone crashes.

New Hampshire highway officials said they expect more crashes or close calls involving state Department of Transportation vehicles and State Police cruisers as summer road work begins in earnest.

Due to the stimulus money, the state plans to pave 750 mi. of road — three times the yearly average.

Department of Transportation Commissioner George Campbell said 800 people are killed in work zone accidents nationwide each year, and most of the victims are the people driving through the work sites. He and other officials held a news conference June 8 to urge drivers to slow down and be careful.

“We’re here because of the safety of our workforce, but it’s the motorists and their families that are also suffering,’’ he said. “The most likely person to get injured in the work zone is the motorist passing through it. Help protect yourself and the highway workers.’’

Since last year, state law has required drivers to slow down and move away from roadside emergencies, often where red, blue or amber lights are flashing. The state also has been using mobile crash cushions to protect work zone equipment and crews.

During a two-week period in May, drivers crashed into three of the cushions; two of those drivers slammed into the barriers at highway speed without hitting the brakes, Campbell said.

Joining Campbell were several state troopers who had been involved in crashes.

Capt. Christopher Colitti was trying to pull over a speeding driver on Interstate 95 in July 2005 when another car crashed into him. Close to three years later, he still has trouble describing the accident without getting emotional.

“I felt a shooting pain in my right leg. I remember looking up ... I remember seeing the grille coming at my chest and thinking ... of my wife and two daughters,’’ said Colitti, who suffered numerous broken bones in his leg and foot.

He pointed to a large sign the state is considering posting at work zones featuring childlike lettering that reads: “Slow down, my Dad works here.’’

“That’s someone’s dad out there or someone’s significant other, or uncle or aunt,’’ he said.