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Construction season ramping up; Washington drivers asked to slow down

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(The Center Square) – With warmer weather and summer months ahead, construction season is ramping up.

That means work zones all over the place, which can be frustrating for drivers and dangerous for construction workers.

Friday marks the end of National Work Zone Awareness Week, but Washington State Department of Transportation officials spend the entire month of April focusing on work zone safety.

Based on last year’s statistics from the Washington State Department of Transportation, drivers need to slow down and pay attention.

“We have been seeing a lot more speeding and erratic behavior from drivers in work zones which we know puts everyone at risk,” said Tina Werner, a spokesperson for WSDOT. “Our data shows that fatal crashes doubled last year in work zones compared to 2022 and even more alarming is the overall number of crashes in work zones went down, but the ones where people are getting seriously injured or killed, that’s going up.”

Most of the crashes in work zones are the result of excessive speed, distracted driving or impairment, according to the Washington State Patrol.

“Please slow down in work zones, put down the cell phone and drive the posted speed in that work zone,” Werner said. “Last week we had nine work zone crashes, just in one week, and four of them all happened in a single day before 10 a.m.”

Workers are reporting some disturbing things from the field, Werner said.

“We frequently have our maintenance workers and our contractors, especially on the SR 167 Gateway Project, tell us drivers are just screaming past them, in some cases going more than 100 miles an hour,” she explained.

With longer and drier days ahead, Werner notes WSDOT has a long list of projects in the coming months, and officials hope drivers will give workers a break.

“From Revive I-5 in King County to the bridge replacement project in Port Angeles, to guardrail work, it’s important for drivers to please slow down and look out for work crews,” Werner said.

WSDOT has posted several videos on its website featuring workers who have been injured on a job site or had a very close call.

“It’s really hard to find a crew that hasn’t had an injury or several close calls,” Werner noted.

Even when it’s not a crash or near miss, construction workers on the highway are dealing with a lot of scary situations on the job.

“Some have had hot coffee thrown on them,” Werner said. “They’ve had people get out of their vehicle and make threats or take out a gun and intimidate, and they’ve had every single hand gesture made at them.”

The last time a WSDOT worker was killed on the job was June 30.

“Rodney Wheeler was a bridge tender on the First Avenue Bridge,” Werner said. “When relief crews went to take over for him, he wasn’t there.”

Wheeler’s body was later discovered in the water, but what happened to him remains unclear.

The 46-year-old left behind a fiancé and their six children. He was honored at an April 2 memorial ceremony where the names of all 61 workers killed on the job going back to the start of record keeping in 1950.

According to WSDOT, Washington averages almost 626 highway work zone injuries each year.

Almost 95% of the people injured or killed in work zone collisions are drivers and their passengers.

The top three causes of work zone crashes are following too closely, speeding and distracted/inattentive driving.