Drivers urged to slow down, help protect workers from serious injury
One motorist was recently clocked driving 114 mph in the Interstate 26 construction zone in North Charleston.
It's not exactly what officials had in mind a few weeks ago when they put up electronic boards that show travelers their speed.
Construction workers are being injured, and authorities are turning to the public, once again, and asking them to think about what they are doing when they travel through the work area.
If Earl Capps could write the manual for driving in a highway construction zone, it would all come down to three words.
"Be considerate, thoughtful and cautious," he said.
Capps is a communication specialist for U.S. Group Inc., the contractor for the construction project on I-26 between the Mark Clark Expressway and Ashley Phosphate Road. One of his roles is to educate the public about the safety of construction workers.
Seven workers' vehicles have been hit in the zone, and one worker was struck. While none of the accidents has resulted in serious injury, officials fear they will be attending a funeral if they can't get the traffic situation under control.
Workers have another 18 months of construction before the project is complete.
"We're not asking people to do anything extraordinary," Capps said. "We're asking people to slow down a little, leave a little extra distance, move over to another lane and give them a little room."
While Capps tries the public relations approach, the S.C. Department of Public Safety is using the electronic boards to show people just how fast they are driving.
"The record to date is 114 mph," Capps said.
As many as 60 crew members are working in the three-mile zone at any given time. Some are pouring concrete. Others are paving and grading new lanes. Cranes are lifting beams for new overpasses and welders are hanging high in the air, soldering metal pieces together.
The workers have seen just about every kind of accident caused by careless drivers, Capps said.
Project Manager Lee Murray's vehicle has been rear-ended. Traffic-control worker Antonio Miller has been hit from behind and sideswiped.
Automobiles have skidded off the roadway and down embankments. They've flipped over, been turned upside down and left abandoned in some cases. The skid marks and other evidence left behind tell the stories.
Once, a big truck hit several 2-ton barriers, moved them several feet and just kept on going, Capps said.
A subcontractor was installing new traffic signals on Remount Road when a vehicle went through a closed lane and struck him.
"He was bruised up a bit. They checked him out," Capps said. "He took a few days off. He's back to work. It could have been a lot worse."
Motorists on several occasions have intentionally thrown objects from their cars in an attempt to hit the workers, Capps said. One worker was hit in the face with a cup full of ice.
In situations where workers are particularly vulnerable, the project "crash truck" is parked in front of them to protect them. The large truck with big warning lights has an 8-foot-wide cushion that will stop an errant vehicle before it can reach the workers. The cushion also reduces the intensity of the impact for the driver of the vehicle.
"They are very effective. They can cost upwards of $10,000 to $20,000," Capps said. "It's cheaper than a life."
A Safety Improvement Team of S.C. Highway Patrol troopers is patrolling the North Charleston construction zone. In the first half of the year, they reported 15 collisions and wrote nearly 900 citations and 1,184 warning tickets. More than 600 of the citations were for speeding, according to the team's activity report.
Troopers are writing speeding tickets with fines as high as $455.
"This construction, the end result is for everyone's benefit," Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. Bob Beres said. "The best thing we can do is allow these (construction workers) to do their job and complete the project without getting killed."
Capps hopes that the electronic speed boards the Public Safety Department erected will help remind people to slow down. He said research suggests that the boards do help to reduce speeding, but he said it's too early to tell if they are having that effect in the interstate construction zone.
The three-year, $66 million construction project will build new interchanges at Remount Road and Aviation Avenue. It also will widen the interstate from six to eight lanes between the Mark Clark Expressway and Ashley Phosphate Road.
The projected completion date is Christmas of 2010.