Work Zone Accidents Jump This Summer

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(Host) Vermont’s all-too short warm months give motorists a break from the perils of icy roads and whiteouts. But the season has its own hazards, because it’s also the time for highway construction.

As VPR’s Susan Keese reports, this year has been especially bad for work zone traffic accidents.

(Keese) There isn’t any more road construction this year than usual. But there has been a rise in work zone accidents this summer.

Sgt. Michael Roj is a safety officer with the state police.

(Roj) "What we are finding is that the construction that is taking place this year is taking place in areas that seem to be more congested and create additional hazards… because of the layout of the highway… because of the volume of traffic that is already entering into these areas."

(Keese) Roj says Brattleboro is one such high risk area.

This week, for the third time this summer, Interstate 91 in Brattleboro had to close after a collision on a stretch of road where two highway bridges are being rebuilt.

A tractor-trailer stopped to make way for a crane in the construction zone. The driver of the car behind him had to use his handbrake, but was hit by a second semi truck that couldn’t stop in time.

No one was hurt, but traffic had to detour through downtown Brattleboro for an hour or more. Earlier in the season, the same stretch of road was closed for five hours after a truck knocked a concrete barrier into oncoming traffic.

Roj says officials tried to make sure drivers know construction is coming.

(Roj) "In some cases as many as seven or eight or nine sets of signs are posted, indicating that they’re entering a construction zone and that there are reduced speed limits."

(Keese) Roj says some motorists aren’t paying attention. He arrested one driver doing 95 in a work zone.

(Roj) "From interviewing a number of people who have either been involved a collision in a construction zone, or driving in a behavior that is unsafe, we find as a common denominator that they did not see the signs…and that in some way they were distracted by conversations they were having with other passengers in the vehicle or they were distracted by electronic devices… or other things."

(Keese) Resurfacing and bridge work at the interchange of Interstates 89 and 91 in White River Junction has also created problems.

Roj says one successful tool for slowing motorists down has been flashing signs equipped with radar to show the speed limit and how fast a motorist is actually driving.

Town officials in Brattleboro say, despite the recent closures, they’ve been pleased with the advance planning and communication. That’s helped minimize the length and impact of the highway closures that have occurred.

But they say the crash-related detours lead to traffic jams on local streets and headaches that could be avoided if drivers would pay more attention.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.


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