Monday, April 20, 2015
Troopers in construction trucks to nab speeders in PA Turnpike work zones
Posted: Thursday, April 16, 2015
Every day, Mike Gallagher worries about dying on the job. He works on a Pennsylvania Turnpike road crew.
Most recently, he’s been working in the Philadelphia region filling potholes along the toll road. Despite traffic cones, trailers mounted with digital signs warning of upcoming work zones, and orange flag waving, neon-vest wearing workers, many drivers still fail to slow down, he said.
Drivers ignore the posted warnings, enter closed lanes, stop, then try to enter an open lane at a high rate of speed, Gallagher said.
The deaths last year of two turnpike workers in the Philadelphia region — among 30 workers who’ve died statewide on the highway in construction zones since it opened — has prompted the state agency to initiate a new public awareness campaign warning motorists to slow down or face fines.
The campaign was announced Thursday at a news conference at the Turnpike’s Trevose Maintenance Center in Bensalem where officials unveiled two public service announcement commercials that will begin airing next month on television in this area before spreading statewide over the summer.
Nearly 60 active construction projects are planned to start this year along the 360-mile stretch of highway.
“We are determined to do whatever we can to get motorists to slow down,” Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission CEO Mark Compton said. “There is no greater priority for this commission than the safety of our workers. We hope our message will impact how drivers act in all work zones, not just the ones on our roadway.”
Most recently, worker Bill McGuigan was killed June 1 when he was struck by a truck that apparently entered a closed lane in which he was working on the turnpike in Chester County. Before that, Michael San Felice was killed in 2012 in Montgomery County when a vehicle left the roadway and hit a maintenance vehicle, which then hit San Felice, who was picking up debris on the highway shoulder.
In addition to the deaths, 150 crashes last year occurred in work zones statewide, turnpike spokesman Carl DeFabo said. Also, more than two dozen drivers struck attenuators — trailer-like vehicles mounted with digital signs that are used to warn drivers of upcoming construction zones.
“That is in a closed lane where people are working,” he added.
In addition to TV spots, the work-zone safety campaign will include other advertising and public outreach, officials said. As part of the initiative, the turnpike is teaming up with Pennsylvania State Police Troop T, the unit in charge of patrols on the road, to expand its “Operation Orange Squeeze.” The work-zone traffic enforcement initiative was launched in 2013.
A state trooper will be stationed inside turnpike construction vehicles, including the orange dump trucks, running radar within work zones while a second trooper will wait outside the work zone to pull over drivers who violate the rules, officials said.
The fine for traveling 11 mph or higher over the speed limit in a work zone is around $200 plus a 15-day suspension of the driver’s license.
Last year, Pennsylvania state police issued 9,486 citations for speeding and careless driving in work zones along the turnpike statewide and handed out 3,836 warnings, said Trooper Sgt. Michael Chambers. Among those citations were 487 as a result of Operation Orange Squeeze.
Compton, the CEO, said the hope of the work zone safety blitz is that it will remind motorists that people are working inches away from their vehicles.
“We really need more than hard hats and vests to protect these people,” he added. “We need our motorists to be aware that there are lives that are out there only inches from these people they need to slow down and be cautious.”