CHICAGO – Governor Pat Quinn today directed the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), Illinois Tollway and Illinois State Police to explore additional highway safety measures in the wake of last week’s tragedy that claimed five lives in an Interstate 55 work zone near Channahon. The Governor also urged the public to do their part to help crack down on reckless and inattentive driving in work zones throughout Illinois.
“I was deeply saddened and alarmed by the senseless tragedy on I-55 last week,” Governor Quinn said. “Our state police and construction workers are performing dangerous jobs in work zones, and we must take every step necessary to protect them and all drivers. I am directing the state’s agencies take any additional steps necessary to further improve the extensive safety measures that are in place so that inattentive or reckless drivers do not cause more harm.”
At the Des Plaines River bridge project over I-55, the site of last week’s accident, IDOT has installed rumble strips approaching the work zone. In conjunction with the Tollway and Illinois State Police, IDOT has developed public service announcements that utilize the overhead message boards on state highways to encourage motorists to stay vigilant and notify law enforcement if they spot dangerous drivers. Finally, even more Illinois State Police troopers have been added to the patrols around the I-55 work zone.
These new safety measures build upon strong protections already in place at the I-55 work zone, including extended work zone speed limits, speed indicator boards, extra Illinois State Police presence, signs alerting drivers of upcoming construction 20 miles from the project and a Smart Traffic Monitoring system to provide motorists real-time updates on travel times and backups.
State programs are also being expanded that allow state troopers to be hired by IDOT for special patrols in work zones. At the Des Plaines River bridge project, these additional patrols have resulted in more than 4,000 citations for speeding and nearly 300 for distracted driving.
Governor Quinn has directed the three state agencies to meet with federal agencies and industry partners about the recent accidents and to help prevent future crashes. The state continues to work with federal lawmakers to strengthen laws regarding continuous hours driven by truckers and to expand the use of electronic logs to track the number of hours they are on the road.
“We at IDOT remain committed to ensuring the protection of all workers and motorists in work zones – and we are redoubling our efforts in light of last week’s horrific events on I-55,” Acting Transportation Secretary Erica Borggren said. “While we have some of the nation’s best safety measures for work zones, we must take this opportunity to see what more we can do. We also want to urge the public to help by paying attention to signs, staying off their handheld devices while driving and heeding to our ongoing message for work zone safety: See orange. Slow down. Save lives.”
Speed and inattentiveness are major contributing factors to work-zone crashes. All motorists need to be especially careful when driving through work zones. Roadway conditions can change quickly and motorists need to be able to react appropriately. Traffic can be slowed down or stopped well outside of the actual work area. Narrowed and closed lanes, uneven pavement and heavy equipment operating next to lanes of traffic will require reductions in speed to ensure safe travel. Motorists are advised to remain alert for distracted and fatigued drivers and to notify authorities if they observe unsafe driving.
“We are committed to making construction work zones as safe as possible and urge drivers to slow down, stay alert and be prepared for changing conditions,” Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said. “With the largest capital program in the history of the Illinois Tollway in full swing, we have also committed the funds necessary to increase the number of Illinois State Police District 15 troopers assigned to the Tollway to provide additional assistance in construction work zones and throughout the system.”
“The traffic laws are clear and ISP troopers will be in these designated areas working to identify motorists who disobey work zone speed limits and other applicable laws,” Illinois State Police Director Hiram Grau said. “We will continue to work hand in hand with our agency partners on a daily basis to continue to raise the awareness of road safety to reduce traffic crashes and prevent loss of life.”
Under regulations that took effect in 2004, fines for speeding in work zones are $375 for first-time offenders and $1,000 for second-time offenders, regardless of the presence of workers. If workers are present, motorists can lose their driver’s license for 90 days if they get a second violation. This year, speed-indicator boards are being deployed on all interstate projects with lane closures, after a significant reduction in work-zone speeds in areas where the boards were used under a pilot program last year.
Illinois averages more than 7,000 crashes in work zones every year. In 2013, there were 28 work zone-related fatalities, including one worker. In 2012, there were 19 fatal work zone crashes, involving fatalities to 13 drivers, three passengers and three pedestrians, two of which were construction workers. Last January, an Illinois Tollway maintenance worker died while attempting to help a semi-truck that was stalled on the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88). An Illinois State Police Trooper was also critically injured. In 2013, another Trooper was killed in a tragic accident on the Tri-State Tollway (I-294).