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Road workers say jobs getting more perilous
Road workers say jobs getting more perilous
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Each year, two million new cars are added to the nation's roadways.
With increasing traffic, the demand for road maintenance becomes a regular feature of the driving landscape as orange barrels begin springing up as the weather breaks.
Those who work to maintain safe roads for all say they have watched their jobs grow more and more dangerous each year.
"Yes, without a doubt," said Charles Mascella, who has been working to maintain Chester Township's 69 miles of asphalt roads, 4.5 miles of chip and seal, 4.5 miles of gravel and about a half-mile of concrete.
Mr. Mascella, who has worked those roads for 33 years and now heads the department as road superintendent, said there are two factors that have made the work more dangerous than it has to be.
More and more motorists tend to speed. And, he said their speeding is compounded by their inattention brought by advances in in-car video, cellphones, texting and global-positioning devices.
"It is a dangerous thing everyday and you have to pay attention," Mr. Mascella said. "You are trying not only to protect yourself, but others who pass through the work zone."
Workzonesafety.org, a clearinghouse for information on the topic, reports that each year more than 40,000 people are killed or injured in work zones. More times than not, it is those passing through the work zones who are most at risk. An estimated 85 percent of the fatal accidents involve the drivers or their passengers, according to the site. The Ohio Department of Public Safety listed 13 deaths and 1,266 injuries in 2009 in the state.
Mr. Mascella said one of his workers sustained injuries in 2008 when a drunk driver blew through a work zone and ran over the foot of one of the road workers attempting to clear downed branches after a storm. "He's still dealing with it (the injury)," Mr. Mascella said.
In his experience, Mr. Mascella said, it makes no difference whether a driver is young or old, they all are giving less attention to work zones.
National statistics, however, note that teen drivers are most at risk. According to workzonesafety.org, a teen driver is killed every three days in work zones and seven are injured every day.
Steven Borawski, street superintendent for the City of Chardon, said workers had to jump out of the way as a young girl barreled through a work zone, driving over new asphalt. "People want all new roads, but they don't want to wait until you fix them."
He said motorists often complain by honking their horns or yelling if they are held up for more than a minute.
Painesville resident Michael Shearer, who has been working the roads for 20 years, said he has no doubt that motorists are using less caution as they approach and move through work zones. "Everybody's in a rush to get nowhere," Mr. Shearer said.
Last week, Mr. Shearer said, he had to jump in front of a car to stop a motorist from going through the open lane while he held up the stop sign. "You're risking your life for two others and they look at you like you're crazy," he said.
He said he has seen close calls as motorists, on cellphones, wander over into the work lane, not paying attention.
Craig Ronyak, an estimator for Ronyak paving which employs Mr. Shearer, said the company relies on extensive training to ensure workers are safe. One of the most important lessons is try to be as visible as possible, he said. "You can't trust the people driving," Mr. Ronyak said., noting that everyone seems to be in a hurry. He said the most dangerous driver today is the one texting, because nothing can get their attention. He said workers have reported seeing a car third in line in stopped traffic grow impatient and pull out trying to go around the work zone before the worker releases the line.
"It may not be as dangerous as fishing in the Bering Straits, but it's not far behind," Mr. Ronyak said.
Geauga County Engineer Robert Phillips, who has worked for nearly 40 years maintaining the county's roads, said he has seen motorists grow more impatient over the last few years. "Everyone's on 'on-time delivery' mode and they're running five minutes late."
He said his workers report people appearing to ignore stop signs when they come on a work zone.
James Teichman, who heads Munson Township's road crews, said he believes road workers face an ever-growing population of speeding and inattentive drivers on the roadways.
"Everybody's in a hurry to get from point A to point B and they don't care who they have to run over to get there," he said. "They don't slow down, they just whiz by. We're just an obstruction in their way."
Mr. Teichman said he will no longer put his workers at risk when schools are letting out after seeing close calls during work there in the past. He said he reschedules the work for times when the teen drivers are not on the roads. "It's not easy to bury one of your guys."
Recently, he said, workers were performing crack sealing and had a driver ignore calls to stop. The driver then complained that it was the workers' fault when crack sealer got on her tires.
Mr. Mascella said he has also adjusted his schedule when work needs to be done on heavily traveled roads. He said he will not schedule work during the rush hours to avoid the problems that arise. If the work must be done, he said, he will stop traffic in both directions to maintain better control.
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