Here's your sign: Speed limits in work zones are not just a suggestion

News-DemocratMay 12, 2014 

AP GRAPHIC

Slow down, keep your hands on the wheel and pay attention. But if you fail that in a construction zone, state officials hope the new blinking speed sign will roust you into remembering.

Speed-indicator signs -- those mobile units topped with a speed limit sign and a lighted part that shows the oncoming vehicle's speed by radar -- will be at every road construction zone in Illinois that has lane restrictions, said Priscilla Tobias, a state safety engineer with IDOT.

Tobias said 13 speed-indicator boards used in a pilot program last year resulted in "demonstrated reduced speed" through construction zones. The Illinois Department of Transportation was so impressed with the preliminary study that the use is now mandatory when workers will be present and lane use restricted. IDOT does not own the signs, but will include the use as part of the mandatory specifications to contractors, Tobias said.

The announcement came at a stretch of Interstate 255 north of Horseshoe Lake Road on Monday. The three-lane highway is reduced to one lane in that stretch, and a speed-indicator sign was at work behind officials.

Trooper Calvin Dye Jr. said motorists who get pulled over for speeding through work zones have a familiar excuse: They didn't see any workers. It doesn't matter, Dye says, if you see workers or not. Obey the speed limit, follow the rules of the road to avoid steep fines, jail time and deadly accidents.

The widow of a worker killed in a construction zone was among the speakers at the IDOT announcement. She and her husband's friends petitioned state Rep. Jay Hoffmann, D-Swansea, to do something. Hoffmann's own father was killed in a construction accident 31 years ago, so he was especially interested, he said.

Last year, more than 20 workers were killed in Illinois construction zones, Hoffmann said. This is a commitment to making Illinois the safest work zone in the nation, he said.

"We're going to have these speed indicators and save lives," Hoffman said.

Josie Beard, the widow of Dennis Beard, who was killed in a work zone crash in 2012, had little to say at the roadside event but supports the signs.

"Our family pleads to everyone to save another family from this agony," she said for herself and her three children.

BY THE NUMBERS:

* Preliminary studies showed work zone speeds reduced to 45 mph from 65 mph with the speed indicator boards

* $375 is the minimum fine for speeding in a workzone for the first offense

* $1000 is the minimum fine for a second offense; add a 90-day drivers license suspension if a worker is present

* Speed indicator boards cost about $1000 to rent for a six-month project, Tobias said, and are mandatory where workers are present and lanes are restricted by construction

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