News-Miner opinion: No doubt many Fairbanks residents have heard the funny joke about our region’s four seasons: almost winter, winter, more winter and road construction. There are variations, but you get the idea.
They’re all good for a chuckle.
What’s not good for a laugh when it comes to road construction, however, is disregard by motorists for the safety of the people who are working in road construction zones.
The people holding the “stop” and “slow” signs as you approach a road construction zone aren’t just standing there because they have nothing else to do. They are there to protect not only the Department of Transportation, local government and contractor crews but are also there to protect you.
Federal Highway Administration data for 2017, the latest available, shows that 799 people died in 710 fatal transportation-related accidents in highway construction zones nationwide. Of those fatalities, 658 were of vehicle drivers and passengers. Of the remainder, 136 were of pedestrians and bicyclists and five were classified as being of people using other modes of transportation. The numbers were a slight increase over 2016.
Of the 799 fatalities in 2017, 132 were of people working in a highway construction site. About 30 percent, or 222, of the fatalities involved a truck or a bus.
Speeding was a factor in 203 of the 710 fatal crashes, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
We Alaskans love to complain about the condition of our highways. We’ve got the continual undulations of frost-heaves. We’ve got periodic collapses of unknown ice lenses. We’ve got cracks from the annual freeze-thaw cycle. We’ve got potholes.
But what we also have are expert repair and construction crews at the Department of Transportation, at the city of Fairbanks and at the many private contractors that are hired to do some of the work.
We want our highways and roads repaired each year and we want new roads and bridges built. That means motorists must do their part by obeying those “stop” and “slow” signs and any directions given by highway construction workers.
At a minimum, failure to follow state law on highway construction zone safety can result in double the usual fine. Causing an accident, especially one that results in an injury or death, can bring a life-changing penalty.
It’s road construction season. Play it safe, pay attention and enjoy a mostly smooth ride when all the work is done.