By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — Road Construction is a highly-important role in the transportation sector, as workers seek to rehabilitee roads and bridges for the safety of the public. It is also highly dangerous, as many vehicles, from small cars to large semi-trucks, move through construction work zones each day, and many workers, including private contractors as well at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) have been hurt or killed by drivers, whether that be from speeding or unattended driving. It is for those reasons that ODOT recognizes National Work Zone Safety week to warn drivers of the dangers of work zones.
Nation Work Zone Awareness Safety Week was celebrated April 20 – 24, by the National Traffic Safety Services Association. ODOT chose to recognize it May 11 – 15.
“We observe Work Zone Safety Awareness Week in the month of April, but due to COVID-19, and many of the closures, and less traffic at the time, we chose to hold it in May, “ said Rick Howland, ODOT Division Four Construction Engineer. Division four includes Kay County.
ODOT workers, along with independent contractors, are there to maintain roads and bridges across the state, from smaller state highways, U.S. highways like Highway 77 and the U.S. Interstate system, along with the many miles of toll roads in the state, such as the Cimarron Turnpike, which connects Tulsa with I-35 north of Stillwater.
While much of the work may be performed without any dangerous incidents, there are times when their lives are at risk.
During the past five years, 95 people have died in work zones, which includes four ODOT workers in construction work zones. While none occurred in 2019, 15 collisions resulting in seven injuries occurred that year, and 2018 saw 10 fatalities and 59 injuries from 253 collisions, according to ODIT.
There are several construction project in their beginning phases along U.S. Highway 77 in Kay County, which includes a section from First Street in Newkirk north to Home Road, which involves a partial resurfacing and reconstruction to alleviate flooding issues.
Also, to begin June 1 is a resurfacing of the highway in Ponca City, 14thStreet, between South and Hartford streets. Other projects in Kay County include ongoing bridge rehabilitation work east of Blackwell on Highway 11.
It is important to remain focused when driving through work zones to protect the health and wellness of all workers at the scene, as well as other drivers and passengers.
“Work zone safety is important for the safety of the workers. They are doing a job to improve the quality of the roads drivers travel every day, at least to the level that can be afforded to them while they are doing a job,” said Captain Paul Timmons, Oklahoma Highway Patrol. “The work being done in a construction one is designed to help the flow of traffic with minimal disruption when the work is done, reducing congestion, reduction of collisions and in general, a safer traffic environment.”
Many accidents are caused by distracted drivers, where the driver’s attention is taken away from the road. That could include electrotonic devises, or even fellow passengers.
“Probably the biggest distraction for drivers is electronic devices. There are others, such as being distracted by other passengers, sometimes even the car radio can be a distraction, anything that the drier’s attention away from the safe operation of a motor vehicle is considered a distraction,” Timmons said.
According to ODFOT, there are currently 250 work zones across the state, some spanning multiple miles, and with summer traffic increasing it is important to recognize the safety of the workers on the highway.
When entering a work zone, it is important to note a decrease in speed by at least 10 mph, although some work zones, depending on the scope of the project, may decrease it much more.
“In most cases you’re going to see a 10 mph drop. A lot of this is to slow the car somewhat,” Howland said. “It takes around 1 – 6 seconds to react to something, and if you’re already going 20 mph less, that gives you a chance to stop.”
Some projects are performed at night, and have their own safety issues, such as extra signage to warn motorist of the dangers of work zones in the dark.
“There are certain things we do at night to make sure we have adequate signs,” Howland said. “We’ll make sure the contractor, if they need to, will have reflective tape. We will repaint a lot of times with temporary construction paint so it’s nice, and you can see that much better in the construction zone.”
Other projects may not have lanes indicated, which can be more hazardous, and reflective tabs help when lanes are not identified.
“If it’s in the phase of being repaved, we’ll use temporary reflective tabs, and those you can see fairly quickly, and be able to indicate the center line,” Howland said. “We’ll probably see a lot of those during the project until we can get a permanent stripe.
No matter the size or scope of a project, it is important to slow down and pay attention to prevent injury or death for those involved int construction project.
“The big thig is to be attentive, slow down and be aware of your surroundings, and wear a seatbelt. No calls or texting until you get someplace safe to answer that,” Howland said.