by Rory MacCallum
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) brought attention to the Midtown Express project in Irving to support National Work Zone Awareness Week, April 9-13.
There were more than 3,000 work zone crashes in 2017 in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and 10 fatalities, a five percent increase in crashes and a nine percent increase in fatalities from the previous year, according to TxDOT.
“We have it every year to observe safe practice in work zones,” Michelle Releford, a public information officer for TxDOT, said. “Not just for the workers, but also for people who are driving through our construction work zones, because the number of fatalities really is the drivers and the passengers in the vehicles that go through our work zone, not from workers on site. They are the smallest amount of people who die in our work zones. You wouldn’t think it would be that way, but it is. We encourage everyone to look at the signs, be aware, slow down.”
The Midtown Express project began in 2015.
“The project is the reconstruction of State Highway 183, 114, and Loop 12,” said Matt Sanman, a public information officer for Southgate Constructors. “We’re currently about 85 percent complete with construction, set to complete at the fall of this year. We’ll be adding one toll lane in each direction on 183, 114, and Loop 12 as well as reconstructing all the infrastructure on 183.”
Both parties used the event hosted on the eastbound lane of Texas Plaza Bridge on Wednesday, April 11, to promote work zone safety for drivers in work zones.
“A work zone can change overnight,” Releford said. “It may stay the same way for weeks and months, and then suddenly change. Then it’s not your normal commute to work, so be aware and do not be distracted by the people in your car or devices you may be using, and slow down.”
“We just try to remind everyone to drive through our work zones safely and not distracted,” Sanman said. “We have hundreds of men and women out in the field who we want to get home safe to their families every day. As much as we can, we encourage the public to put their phones down and drive through our office safely. The areas we see the most concern in is people speeding through construction zones and driving distracted. It’s always important to give yourself enough lead time for the car in front of you to make sure you can adjust to changes, lane shifts, and stop at the appropriate time.”
Work zones can change overnight, but a lot of planning goes in to detours, lane closures, etc. according to Sanman.
“It’s a pretty tedious process,” Sanman said. “A lot of these approvals need to go through TxDOT, and need to go through the cities. We try to find the best alternatives and make sure we have the least impact to the traveling public, so a lot of thought and work goes into that. There’s TxDOT standards we have to adhere to for lane changes and certain detours, so we try to remind the public every day the road you drove home the night before could be different the next morning, so be cautious and always look out for those different changes.”
“It takes many factors and lots of timing and planning to even decide where the detours are going to be and when we’re going to open up a lane or close a lane. We have to give the public adequate notice, and we do that by our signage,” Releford said. “We put out signs in advance, two weeks at most, seven days at the minimum, to let people driving through the area know change is coming, and when it’s going to happen. On the day of the change, we have police officers out blocking a lane with flashing lights, so the public will see ‘Okay that lane is being closed. I can see the cones. I can see the police officer. I’m going to scoot over.’ The next day, when that lane is completely closed, we’ll have more barricades up. When you’re driving to work, when that has happened overnight, you see ‘Oh this is not where I thought this was going to be,’ but there will be a sign before that. That’s why you’ve got to be alert, and when you see an orange sign, pay attention to what it says. If you see a flashing electronic sign, pay attention to what it says because that’s your notice.”
The growing population in the DFW area has increased traffic volumes and has caused an increase in work zone crashes.
“We know the population is growing exponentially and construction is growing because of that population,” Releford said. “Those are two things right there are going to have something to do with the statistics, but we don’t feel like that’s enough not to try and get more word out for people to be aware of what’s going on in these construction zones. Several years ago I think the statistic was a thousand people a day were moving into Texas and most of them into the DFW Metroplex. They’re going to bring their cars with them, and their kids are going to drive eventually. Our traffic data has shown every year that our traffic is increasing, and there’s really no way to stop that. People come into the area, and they’re going to drive.”