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baltimoresun.com

Highway agency readies for warm-weather projects

SHA has 15 major projects beginning or under way in Baltimore area

By Candus Thomson, The Baltimore Sun

8:24 PM EDT, April 10, 2012

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Pete Landon knows only too well what happens when a motorist isn't paying attention in a highway work zone.

So does the college student who was tailgating him while texting.

The two vehicles had a near-miss Tuesday morning on the Beltway near Liberty Road, said Landon, who watched the scene in his rearview mirror — and who stopped the other driver and gave her a warning.

"We were both lucky. If she had hit me, I probably would have hit the car in front of me," said Landon, a State Police lieutenant colonel on his way to a news conference about highway safety. "Unfortunately, people aren't paying attention. They ignore the signs and they ignore the speed trailer, and when they see the red tail lights, it's too little, too late."

Landon delivered his message a short time later at a State Highway Administration event that marked the beginning of the annual burst of warm-weather construction.

The agency has 15 major projects beginning or under way in the Baltimore area, along with many smaller resurfacing and improvement activities. The work will create plenty of places for accidents to occur.

Each year, Maryland averages 2,600 work-zone crashes, resulting in 1,400 people injured and 12 killed. Four out of five fatalities are motorists, according to state statistics.

Work zones are, in effect, the office for construction crews and police officers who "often are only protected by the reflective vests they wear," Landon said.

But the danger extends beyond the concrete barriers, said the SHA's administrator, Melinda Peters.

On Monday, a motorist was seriously injured on eastbound U.S. 50 near Hebron when the van he was driving rear-ended an SHA dump truck pulling an arrow sign at a work zone. The truck driver received minor injuries, Peters said.

Last month, a construction worker was struck on Interstate 95 near Caton Avenue by a driver who veered into a construction zone and sped away.

"The majority of our work takes place right next to traffic," Peters said. "There is no margin for error."

In the Baltimore area, four Beltway work zones have photo enforcement: the Frederick Road bridge, the inner loop at Wilkens Avenue, the Liberty Road interchange and the Charles Street interchange.

In the two years since Maryland began its stepped-up work zone enforcement program, cameras have caught more than 1 million drivers exceeding the limit by at least 12 mph. They received $40 tickets in the mail for each offense.

Landon said there has been a 65 percent decline in the number of drivers clocked at 10 mph or more over the limit in the speed zones. But many speeders try to beat the system.

"They're familiar with the work zone, and they don't hit the brakes until the last second when they're almost to the white [camera] car," Landon said. "That can start a chain reaction."

During construction season, state officials suggest leaving more time for a trip and checking the SHA's online home page or following the agency on Twitter for the latest information.

"We live in a multitasking world," Landon said. "But when you're in a vehicle — especially in a construction zone — you have one task. We all have to pay attention."

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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