The Big Story Blog

Highway work zone danger: 3 things

Posted at 8:00 AM on October 14, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Transportation

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(Photo courtesy of KSTP/Mitch Pittman)

Minnesota Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel pleaded with drivers two weeks ago to slow down.

"There are thousands of workers on our state and local roadways every day who are working to improve our transportation system," Sorel said after two workers were hit near Interstate 94 and Highway 280. "They deserve to be safe. They deserve to be able to go home to their families after their shift."

Sorel's plea turned sadly prophetic Thursday afternoon when a 21-year-old driver lost control of his car, spun into a ditch and killed two workers at a construction site along I-35W in Burnsville.

We're spending today reporting and talking about highway safety in Minnesota and what happens when we don't slow down. We need your voice in this conversation. Tell us what you've seen on the highways. Post below or contact us directly.

Here are three things we know this morning.

1.) Crashes and deaths. MnDOT says there were 1,900 highway work zone crashes last year in Minnesota -- more than five a day. Eleven people died. We'll parse some of the trend data later today but there doesn't seem to be a consistent pattern the past few years. Crash numbers have gone up and down.

Nationally, work zone fatalities have declined through most of the decade. Still, the U.S. Department of Transportation says 667 people were killed in work zones in 2009. One hundred were people working on a project; more than 40,000 drivers, passengers and workers were injured in work zones.

2. More work zones. Aging bridges and roadways mean more repairs, which means more road crews and work zones. The Federal Highway Administration says drivers are increasingly exposed to work zones.

3.) We've all done it. Every one of us has driven too fast at some point through a construction zone. My MPR News colleague Bob Collins made a few quick calculations and observed:

Most construction zones in Minnesota are under a mile long, many are a fraction of that. Slowing from 65 to 40 for one mile will get you where you're going 22 seconds later. That's about half the time it took to read this far down in this post.
We'll do more reporting on this issue today. Help make the reporting smarter by adding your voice.


About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.