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NewsTribune photo/Craig Sterrett A worker for an electrical and construction project on Interstate 39 east of La Salle carries traffic cones near a crash-absorbing “tenuator” truck and left-pointing lighted arrow.
OTTAWA — Here’s a pop quiz: Who is more likely to be killed in a highway construction zone, a worker on foot or a motorist behind the wheel?
Answer: The motorist. However dangerous work zones are for road crews — and they are — drivers represent more than 90 percent of fatalities in construction zones.
The Illinois Department of Transportation put out that surprising fact Tuesday during a press conference outside District 3 headquarters in Ottawa. Spring has arrived and construction crews will take on warm-weather projects such as road repairs and bridge replacement.
“Everyone assumes the work zone is there to protect workers, which it is, but it’s also to protect motorists,” said Craig Graham, safety education officer for District 17 state police in La Salle.
Herb Jung, construction engineer for IDOT, urged motorists to watch for the orange signs that warn drivers when workers are present.
“Motorists need to embrace the orange,” Jung said. “As you approach a work zone, slow down (and) put down the cell phone.”
Motorists who think they’re in a hurry are further warned to watch for state police vans occupied by troopers with photo-speed monitors and who’ll be watching for speeding and other work zone violations. Drivers who blow past work zones may not get stopped right then and there, but can expect a traffic citation to arrive in the mail.
And the fines will be steep. Since 2004, work zone speed fines are $375 for first-time offenders and $1,000 for second-time offenders, with the loss of their driver’s license for 90 days. Hitting a worker can result in a trip to prison for up to 14 years as well as a $10,000 fine.
IDOT said the state averages more than 7,000 work zone motor vehicle crashes every year. Last year, there were 19 fatal work zone crashes that killed 13 drivers, three passengers and three pedestrians. Two of the pedestrians were workers. Allison Stout, a flagger with Laborers Local 393 in Marseilles, nearly was a casualty. She said a semi driver slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting her and halted in time, but the engine hood few off and nearly hit her.
Afterwards, the driver told her that he saw the orange sign; but he didn’t read it or heed it.
“Lack of awareness could be deadly,” she said. “You see orange? Slow down. Save lives. Obey the rules of the road.”