State troopers are increasing their presence at work zones in response to recent deaths and close calls on Maryland highways.
“Motorists will notice an increased police presence in and around active work zones throughout Maryland,” Major Scott Keyser of the Maryland State Police said at a news conference outside State Highway Administration offices Tuesday to mark National Work Zone Awareness Week.
“Emergency lights on police vehicles will be activated when working stationary assignments to provide an even higher level of visibility,” Keyser said. “Visibility is a powerful deterrent, and that’s exactly what we are trying to do. The more that we’re out there, and the more folks see us, the more likely they are to slow down, pay attention and move over.”
On March 22, six highway workers were killed on Interstate 695 in Woodlawn. State police are still investigating the cause of the two-vehicle crash, and so far, charges have not been filed against either driver. One of their vehicles flipped through an access point gap in temporary jersey barriers and struck workers after changing lanes and colliding with the front of the other vehicle
A preliminary report released last week by the National Transportation Safety Board said both vehicles were speeding prior to the accident.
“We know speed is the number one contributing factor to work-zone crashes,” Keyser said. “Although the cause of this crash has not been officially determined, the investigation indicates that speed was in fact a factor.”
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Less than two weeks after that deadly incident, a driver read-ended a state police patrol car parked by an I-695 work zone. The damaged police car, along with a damaged tow truck, dump truck and crash barrier from other recent incidents, provided the back drop to Tuesday’s news conference.
“I see way too many of these mangled in our lot here everyday,” Maryland Department of Transportation Administrator Tim Smith said. ”Right now there is an imbalance between prioritizing vehicle travel times and safety. We must put safety first.”
Smith added that each day there are around 1,000 workers at more than 300 work zones beside state highways and roads. According to Maryland Department of Transportation data, between 2017 and 2021 there were 7,521 crashes related to work zones that injured 3,059 and killed 46 people.
During the news conference, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller, a former transportation engineer in Montgomery County, announced a new statewide task force devoted to highway safety.
“To every single Marylander, every single Marylander, I say this, slow down, pay attention, follow the laws. It’s not just because there will be consequences for not following the laws, never forget whose lives you could be impacting,” the Democratic governor said. “It’s up to us to make sure this is not just going to be a task force.”
Beyond an increased police presence around work zones, state officials did not outline any specific safety measures.
“If we can encourage more individuals to seek alternative modes of transportations such as transit, walking or bicycle lanes that also poses dangers in its own ways,” Miller said. “We know we’ve had a lot of pedestrian deaths and cyclist deaths, so again we need to look at this holistically and how we are going to improve and elevate safety for all users of the infrastructure.”