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 Both eastbound and westbound traffic are diverted along 14 Mile Road under the Interstate 75 bridge for bridge demolition April 6.

Both eastbound and westbound traffic are diverted along 14 Mile Road under the Interstate 75 bridge for bridge demolition April 6.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

In the zone — take care driving through the orange barrels

‘Everybody who works here wants to get home’

By: Terry Oparka | C&G Newspapers | Published April 9, 2019

 Traffic heading north on Interstate 75 is directed to the south side bridge while construction crews work to bring down the northbound bridge April 6.

Traffic heading north on Interstate 75 is directed to the south side bridge while construction crews work to bring down the northbound bridge April 6.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

OAKLAND COUNTY — Matt Mountain said the biggest mistake motorists make when driving through road construction zones is not paying attention.

Mountain is the superintendent for the Road Commission for Oakland County’s District 4 — encompassing part of Interstate 75, West Bloomfield and Waterford. He’s also worked as a Road Commission superintendent in Southfield.

“They don’t pay attention to signs,” he said. He recounted a story of a driver reportedly injured on southbound I-75, near M-25, about a month ago: The motorist reportedly hit an attenuator truck, known as a crash cushion, stationed behind a crew patching potholes.

Mountain said motorists’ failure to merge is a major cause of crashes in construction zones.

“Signs are placed up well in advance,” Mountain noted. “They start a mile back on the freeway. Yet (drivers) still wait too late to merge. The issue is people try to get over too late in approaching a work zone.”

The Road Commission for Oakland County joined road agencies across the country in raising motorists’ awareness of taking extra care driving through construction zones for National Work-Zone Awareness Week April 8-12.

The theme for National Work-Zone Awareness Week 2019 is “Drive Like You Work Here.”

“With the return of the familiar orange barrels, motorists must learn to unplug from distractions as they enter work zones,” Road Commission Managing Director Dennis Kolar said in a prepared statement.

“Especially when workers are present,” Kolar said, “extra attention is needed to keep everybody safe. With the recent increase in funding, this will be a record year for the number of work zones within Oakland County. More work zones means drivers can expect to find themselves within those zones more frequently.”

On Sept. 5, 2018, the Road Commission said, employees were transported to a hospital when a vehicle struck their pickup truck on eastbound M-5, west of Drake Road, in Farmington Hills.

Craig Bryson, a spokesman for the Road Commission, said in September that the workers had planned to set up a work zone for some forestry work along that section of M-5, and they were pulling off the road when a car came up behind them and couldn’t stop.

“So they went around the right side of the truck onto the shoulder and then hit the side of the truck,” he said. “It caused our truck to flip over upside-down ... injuring our employees,” Bryson said.

According to a Sept. 7, 2018, press release from the Road Commission, a car reportedly drove into the barreled-off work zone, scattering barrels, missing workers and equipment on M-59, east of Williams Lake Road, in Waterford Township.

In another incident, on Aug. 20, 2018, a semitruck reportedly plowed into the back of a Road Commission truck in a work zone on I-96, near Milford Road, in Lyon Township, according to the Road Commission.


Driving distracted
In a different initiative, law enforcement agencies around the state are participating in a nationwide distracted driving mobilization period April 11-15 in observance of April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Michigan saw a 57% increase in distracted driving crashes and a 67% increase in fatalities from those crashes from 2016 to 2017, according to a Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center press release.

According to the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center, there were 20,115 crashes in Michigan in 2017 involving distracted driving, resulting in 72 fatalities. In 2016, there were 12,788 distracted driving crashes resulting in 43 fatalities.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, on average, over 700 fatalities occur in work zones across the country each year.

In Michigan, there were 23 fatal crashes in work zones and 25 fatalities in 2017, which is the last year for which data is available, according to the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearing House.

“The safety of our employees, contractors and motorists is our foremost concern,” Kolar said. “While many factors contribute to deadly work-zone crashes, driver behavior plays a huge role. We ask county motorists to slow down, buckle up, drive sober, pay attention, stay off their phones and, at all times, drive as if their lives depend on it.”

In Michigan, the posted speed limit in most work zones where workers are present is 45 mph.

Motorists speeding through work zones are subject to doubled fines and additional points against their driver’s license. Causing the injury of another person in a work zone is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and $1,000 in fines. Causing the death of a person in a work zone is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and $7,500 in fines.

Mountain said that although the speed limit is 45 mph in work zones on freeways, “most people don’t slow down. We’re just trying to make a living. As a worker, you become numb. If you’re timid, you’re not getting the work done.

“We have a lot of confidence in drivers. We can’t think someone will hit us. All we have is barrels and cones. I know people don’t like roadwork. The reason why we’re doing it is to make it safer. Everybody who works here wants to get home.”

Mountain said that daily road construction updates may be found at