With about $890 million in state road and bridge construction projects slated for this summer – meaning lots of road crews – a group of state officials gathered on the curb of Airport Road in the cold Tuesday morning to urge motorists to drive carefully and safeguard those working on the roads.
“We are about to start one of the busiest construction seasons we have ever had,” said Peter Alviti, director of the state Department of Transportation.
“We will have hundreds of men and women out on the roads, fixing potholes, clearing drains, resurfacing streets, building bridges and working on many other projects.”
According to Charles St. Martin, spokesman for RIDOT, work to be done this construction season involves 114 projects, including new as well as ongoing projects.
To illustrate RIDOT precautions at work zones and provide footage for television cameras, a good portion of the north side of Airport Road was reduced to a single lane as drains were cleaned of sand and debris. The restriction also provided an extra measure of security for the knot of reporters and officials around a podium on the sidewalk.
A placard taped to a tripod gave the grim statistics of those killed in work zones. Nationwide, 785 people died in work zones in 2016, an increase of 7 percent from the year before.
Alviti said that more than 25,000 people are seriously injured and that, on average, a work zone crash occurs every five minutes. According to RIDOT, about 85 percent of those killed are not the workers on the road, but the driver or occupant of the vehicle in the crash.
“Our highway construction and cleanup crews also are at risk every day all because of motorists who ignore the signs, flashing lights and barriers set up to protect the people working there,” said Col. Ann Assumpico, director of the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety and superintendent of the State Police. She identified distraction, speed and impairment as the top three causes of crashes in work zones. “These driving behaviors are not only illegal but also pose a tremendous risk of injury and death, especially for those in work zones. This will not be tolerated,” she said.
Assumpico urged motorists to pay attention, slow down and to not use alcohol or drugs before driving.
Carlos Machado, division administrator of the Federal Highway Administration Rhode Island Division, likewise spoke of the number of fatalities.
“Each of the victims was someone’s father or mother, brother, sister or friend, and their deaths are unacceptable. We must and can do better,” he said.
In a press release, RIDOT offered the following suggestions for motorists on encountering road construction and maintenance crews: slow down; read the signs and follow the flashing arrows; don’t be distracted by other activities, especially the use of electronic devices; merge when directed rather than trying to drive to the front of the line; leave early in expectation of delays; and be patient and stay calm.
Also speaking and reminding motorists to drive carefully were Arthur Kinsman, regional administrator of the National Highway Safety Administration, Kevin Carter, Division Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Diana Imondi, Traffic Safety Programs Manager at AAA Northeast and Raymond Coia, Administrator of the New England Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund.