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Road construction season is here and police are warning people to slow down, pay attention

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

They say that you know it’s spring in Michigan when the roads start sprouting orange barrels.

You might also notice a lot more Michigan State Police patrol cars in some areas.

“Historically, we’ve seen a lot of speeding even when there are reduced speeds posted for construction, so we really wanted to take the opportunity to have MSP focus their attention on those locations,” said Jocelyn Hall, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Right now, work zones on I-75 in Saginaw County and work at the I-475 intersection with I-69 and U-S Route 23 in Genesee County are problem areas. State Police are doubling patrols of those areas.

Police routinely patrol other work zones as well. Fines are doubled and if someone injures or kills a worker, the penalties can be severe, including time in prison.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Often there's nothing but a row of orange plastic barrels between traffic and construction workers.

“We’re just seeing a lot of violations that are occurring with motorists not paying attention and being distracted during their travel through the work zones which is extremely dangerous,” said MSP Sergeant Kim Vetter.

Not only are there changing speed limits, but there are shifting lanes, changed exit ramps, and other drivers who are confused or otherwise occupied.

“Texting, e-mailing, eating, playing with the radio, things like that, that really draw their focus away from what's happening on the road in front of them,” said Hall with MDOT.

"Fix the damn roads"

Governor Gretchen Whitmer campaigned on the slogan, "Fix the damn roads." Because the state issued bonds for some critical infrastructure, that construction is now happening. But there are hazards for the people doing the work.

Sometimes there’s nothing between the construction workers and the trucks, buses and cars on the road, but a row of orange plastic barrels. Speed limits are reduced to 45 miles per hour where there are workers. Too often drivers ignore the reduced speed limits.

Michigan State Police often patrol work zone areas, but in problems spots, the Department of Transportation pays for extra patrols.

Last year there were roughly 3,900 crashes in work zones, resulting in 14 fatalities. There were 17 fatalities in 2019 and the previous three-year average was more than 19 people killed according to the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse.

Most of the crashes and injuries are between drivers, some of whom don’t notice the traffic has slowed or come to a stop because the volume of cars has been squeezed into fewer lanes.

Fines are doubled and the penalties can be severe, including time in prison.

“They could be fined up to $7,500 and 15 years in jail for motorists who injure or kill anyong in a road construction work zone,” said Sergeant Vetter.

Police routinely patrol work zones, but doubling patrols in areas that have been problematic can help serve as a reminder.

“Hopefully just the presence of the troopers alone will help to slow people down and keep the work place safer, but enforcement certainly does help reinforce that,” Vetter added.

She says pay attention, reduce your speed to 60 miles per hour in a work zone and slow down to 45 if you see workers.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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