The Big Story Blog

Three things learned on highway work zone danger

Posted at 4:45 PM on October 14, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Transportation

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(Photo courtesy of KSTP/Mitch Pittman)

Investigators are still working through what happened Thursday when a 21-year-old driver lost control of his car on I-35W in Burnsville, spun into the ditch and killed two workers.

In our reporting today and in our conversations with readers, we learned a few things about highway safety in Minnesota and what happens when we don't slow down.

1.) It's scary out there. Chad Dillman, a traffic control supervisor for Safety Signs Inc. in Lakeville, is one of those guys on the highways who try to channel traffic safely away from works zones while construction's underway. He shared his own stories of near misses with colliding cars. No doubt it's in the back of every highway worker's thoughts. Deaths and injuries in the work zones, he wanted us to know, are "very frustrating and very angering -- and extremely preventable."

2.) Things are better now than in decades past. Dillman did have good things to say about efforts by the state and construction industry to keep highway workers safe. Data seem to prove him right. Fatal crashes and injuries on Minnesota roads have fallen steadily the past few years and are no where near the years of record deaths and injuries seen in the 1970s.

3.) Distraction kills. Lingering questions about Thursday's crash and whether the driver was speeding into the work zone were answered this afternoon. He was not speeding and MnDOT says the speed limit was lowered from 70 mph to 60 mph approaching the zone.

"MnDOT officials say distractions are the biggest danger in work zones and that motorists should make sure to pay attention to the road and follow speed limits while driving through a construction area," MPR News reporter Elizabeth Dunar wrote this afternoon.

Finally, sometimes good things are learned from tragedy. Dunbar this afternoon reports that MnDOT is weighing extra safety measures in construction sites after Thursday's I-35W crash.

Dunbar writes:

Tiffany Dagon, a work zone engineer for MnDOT's metro district, said extra safety measures may be added to construction zones in the wake of the crash.

"One is the use of barriers that we put the workers behind on high speed roads if they're very close to the road," Dagon said. "Another thing we do, again if they're right next to the road, is sometimes a lane closure right next to them to get a lane of separation between the workers and the traffic."

Measures, maybe, that will save workers lives in the future in those dangerous zones.


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.