Today is the start of the 15th annual National Work Zone Awareness Week which was started to increase public awareness about work zone safety and is held each April at the start of the highway construction season. This year’s kickoff event is being held on April 8, 2014 at the State Route 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement project in Seattle, WA.
This national event actually began as an internal awareness program initiated by the Bristol District of the Virginia DOT held April 7 – 11, 1997. The following year, the VDOT launched a statewide public awareness campaign to spread the word to promote safe driving habits and how to avoid hazards when traveling through work zones. In 1999, the American Traffic Safety Service Association (ATSSA), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) all got together and signed an agreement to create the National Work Zone Awareness Week with the inaugural event taking place in 2000.
No one likes dealing with the inconvenience and delays caused by traveling through work zones, but it’s better than the alternative of having to drive on deteriorating and pothole-riddled roads and bridges. Here in the Raleigh, NC area commuters are currently dealing with the first phase of the $168 million Fortify project which will rebuild 11 miles of I-40 and I-440. I drive through a small portion of the work zone of this project on my commute home each day and luckily haven’t experienced that much of an increase in my travel time for a project of this scale which once bore the groan-inducing moniker of Crawleigh. The NCDOT actually held a contest to come up with that name which won out over witty finalists such as Carmuda Triangle and Southern Discomfort. (I’m assuming the name change from Crawleigh to Fortify was meant to put a more positive spin on the project.)
Regardless of where you live chances are you will encounter a road construction work zone at some point in the coming months. In honor of National Work Zone Awareness Week, here are five tips to successfully navigate through a work zone.
Don’t Speed. The theme for this year’s National Work Zone Awareness Week is Work Zone Speeding: A Costly Mistake. Speeding through a work zone could result in a hefty fine, jail time or the loss of life for you, another motorist or a construction worker. Speed limits in work zones are reduced for a reason and there’s nowhere you have to be that’s worth endangering the lives of others by speeding through a work zone.
Avoid Distractions. You need to stay alert and pay close attention to everything going on when driving through a work zone. This is not the time to be changing radio stations, talking on your phone, practicing your juggling or finishing your taxes which are due next week. Heed the advice of The Doors and “keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel”.
Obey All Signs & Flaggers. When you enter a work zone you’ll encounter a number of those orange traffic signs or flaggers letting you know you need to reduce your speed, traffic patterns are shifted or that lanes are closed and you need to merge one way or the other. Read them and heed them as soon as possible; it will help traffic flow more smoothly.
Find an Alternate Route. In most cases there is more than one way to get from Point A to Point B for your daily commute. I can think of at least a half dozen alternate routes off the top of my head that would get me to and from work that would avoid the work zone and take about the same amount of driving time. If you aren’t sure of a way around the construction try using your GPS device or Google Maps to find an alternate route.
Remain Calm. Don’t drive angry. Dealing with work zone congestion can be frustrating. Stop-and-go traffic and long delays in your commute can get anyone’s blood boiling, but getting angry won’t get you anywhere any faster. Try leaving earlier to avoid the morning or afternoon rush. If leaving early or finding an alternate route just aren’t options for you, I suggest creating an extra-long playlist of your favorite tunes so you can crank up the radio and relax. Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, right?
For those of you whose “office” is the work zone be sure to check out our Top 10 Road Construction Work Zone Safety Tips.