By Jim Cameron
Visit the headquarters of the Connecticut Department of Transportation in Newington and inside the front lobby you’ll see a strange memorial: orange safety cones draped in black. It’s a tribute to the nearly 40 men and women of the CDOT who’ve been killed in recent years doing their jobs maintaining our highways.
On any given day there may be more than 1,500 CDOT staffers and hundreds of other private contractors in highway work zones. Some are fixing guard rails or picking up litter. Others could be engineers surveying the site for needed improvements.
The highway can’t be closed down for them to do their work. It can only be “coned” and warning signs posted. Sometimes you’ll also see a “crash attenuator” truck with a sign on it warning of construction ahead. Last year those trucks were struck 24 times.
The real problem is speeding. CDOT tells me that just last month in Hartford more than 60% of vehicles were speeding through a work zone. Last November a car was clocked in Norwalk doing 90+ mph on I-95 while workers were doing their jobs.
Highway work crews receive special training when out on an open highway. In addition to using safety gear, they’re taught never to turn their back on traffic. While most construction is done from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., many drivers wonder why it can’t be done at night when traffic is lighter. Too many complaints about noise, says CDOT. And nights are when impaired drivers are out.
This week is National Work Zone Awareness Week, a chance to remind us all that these CDOT employees put their lives in peril, not by the necessary road repairs they do day and night, but by careless drivers.
Nationally some 857 workers were killed and another 44,240 were injured in work zone accidents in 2020 alone. Recently in Baltimore six road workers were killed in a single crash in broad daylight, even though they were on the other side of concrete Jersey barriers. More often the only thing separating workers from oncoming traffic is a few orange cones, hence the memorial at CDOT headquarters.
Last week CDOT instituted some new technology that might keep its employees safer by discouraging reckless drivers from speeding: automatic work zone speed cameras.
The cameras will record the license plate of any vehicle going too fast. If you’re 15 mph or more over the speed limit, the tech will automatically issue the owner up to a $150 speeding ticket by mail. CDOT even has a website to tell us where the cameras will be operating.
The work zone speed camera legislation is the first type of “red light camera” allowed in the state. In Maryland where the same tech was installed they saw an 80% reduction.
But maybe, just maybe, these new work zone speed cameras will deter dangerous drivers and allow CDOT employees to fix the roads and go home to their families at the end of their shift.
Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. His weekly column “Talking Transportation” is archived here. You can contact Jim at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.”