The Big Story Blog

Work zone dangers 'frustrating, extremely preventable'

Posted at 11:33 AM on October 14, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Transportation

We went searching for a first-person account of how dangerous it can be for workers in highway construction zones. Chad Dillman found us.

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.

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With the deaths Thursday of two workers at a construction site along I-35W in Burnsville, Dillman sent a note in through MPR's Public Insight Network to tell us what he's seen and how frustrating and dangerous it can be out there. His company, he said, was working another metro area project with the two men killed Thursday.

Even when people aren't there, "it's amazing how many times you can come back to a work zone and see equipment just obliterated," he told MPR News reporter Tim Nelson this morning. "When we're in there, you always have to keep your eyes open."

He's come close several times to being hit or killed. Six times, he said, cars have rear-ended a few feet away from him while he was trying to close a lane on an onramp.

Cars approaching are supposed to stop and wait for an opening in the traffic. "Instead, most people are looking over their shoulder (at the highway traffic) while I'm setting up a diagonal line of drums to close the lane they're in."

"If they do seem to turn around to see me, it usually startles them. They slam on their brakes and the car behind them rear ends them. That's happened literally six times within four or five feet of me."

People aren't paying attention to the signs ahead of them that lanes are closed or merging.

Minnesota officials, he adds, do a great job of trying to keep sites safe and raise public awareness. And the industry has done a lot to make things better. It's the public that needs to be more aware of the danger they create.

Deaths and injuries in the work zones, he added, are "very frustrating and very angering -- and extremely preventable."

We're looking for more voices in this conversation from workers and drivers. Tell us what you've seen on the highways. Post below or contact us directly.


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.