Orange and white striped cones are already out on the service road for Interstate 81’s Exit 12 in Homer, where road crews are replacing guardrails. It’s a sign of one of the longest seasons in the state — construction season.
“As soon as the weather turns, we’re going to be out there,” said Curtis Jetter, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
With construction season comes a reminder from the DOT to pay attention and remember road workers have families too.
“Quite frankly it’s never more important than this week,” Jetter said Friday.
DOT worker Dennis Matthew Howe of Owego died March 13 from injuries he sustained after a tractor-trailer crashed into a DOT truck in a work zone on Route 17 in Tioga County.
Cortland County highway worker Jay Forbes isn’t nervous about getting back to work fixing potholes from winter’s decay, paving roads or striping pavement, but the thought of something happening to him or any other road crew worker is on his mind.
“It can happen at any time, but as far as constantly worrying about that every time we’re out there — we can’t do that,” he said. “We have a job to do and you have to focus on that, but it’s still kind of in the back of our mind.”
Forbes was a foreman in September 2011 on Cold Brook Road near Homer repairing flood damage to the road when a car wouldn’t stop for a flagger. The flagger and Forbes had to jump out of the way to avoid being hit.
“Most people just don’t care — they are in hurry and you won’t slow them down,” Forbes said. “When you see your DOT workers or county workers as an inconvenience, that’s where the problem starts.”
Jetter said drivers need to be aware that the state’s Move Over Law isn’t just for first responders, but also includes road crews.
“That kind of gets lost in that law, but DOT truck and workers are afforded the same protection,” Jetter said.
He said drivers need to pay attention. “In an ideal world people would be looking way ahead down the road and checking for someone on the shoulder and checking their rearview mirror and not have to squeeze in at the last minute,” Jetter said.
However, it’s not an ideal world, so Jetter said if you can’t move over, slow down and remember there are workers on the side of the road.
“… It could save a life,” Jetter said.
Play it safe
What to look for:
• Signs that construction is coming up
• Reduced speed signs
• Lights — red, blue, yellow
• Changes to lane using traffic cones
• Flaggers and the directions they are giving
• Lane closure or detour signs
Source: New York State Police
The Interstate 81 paving project is one of the biggest projects continuing this year, after beginning in 2016. Jetter said the work will be going on around the Lafayette exit and continuing to the Interstate 481 interchange on both the north and south sides of the highway.
The state’s 511NY website also warns of utility work on Route 90 between Homer and Summerhill, which will close some shoulders through Thursday.
“Traffic will be affected by what we’re doing and that of course should scream to people, pay attention,” Jetter said.
State police have officers that are part of the Traffic Instant Management Team who are assigned to sit out at active construction sites every day on Route 17 and interstates 81, 86 and 88, according to state police public information officer Aga Dembinska.
Cortland County sheriff’s officers will respond to calls regarding incidents in work zones, but doesn’t have the staff to sit at every site.
Penalties for speeding in a workzone are fines ranging from $178 for 1 to 10 mph over the limit to up to $1,968 for 41 mph or faster than the limit. Points on a license range from 3 to 11 — enough to lose a license on one violation. Further, two convictions for speeding in a work zone within 18 months can lead to a license revocation.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is looking to increase penalties for people who harass work zone workers as part of his 2020 executive budget. If the proposal passes, it would make attacking a worker a felony punishable by a sentence of up to three months in jail and a fine of $500.