Construction workers warn drivers to slow down this season
Maria Gonzalez has swift reflexes that saved her life twice, but she's not a police officer, firefighter or soldier reacting to crisis.
Instead, the construction laborer has faced life-or-death moments on the job caused by heedless drivers.
"It's intense out there, and people don't get it," Gonzalez said. "They're driving 70 miles an hour, they're coming close to you, they're on the phone, they're texting."
Illinois Department of Transportation and tollway officials warned drivers to obey speed restrictions and watch for workers Monday as construction season gears up. Close to 5,000 crashes occur in Illinois work zones every year, the tollway reported. In 2016, there were 37 fatal crashes in construction zones that caused 44 deaths, preliminary figures show.
Gonzalez was flagging cars to slow down on a Route 14 job site two years ago. One driver slowed but the vehicle behind it didn't.
"The driver was looking in her purse for something, and she hit that (first) car," Gonzalez said. "I had to jump (away), otherwise that car would have hit me also.
"We have families we want to get home to."
She also had a close call on the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90).
A massive widening on I-90 wrapped up in 2016 although some interchange rebuilds continue. Other big projects are ramping up, including continued work on the Jane Byrne Interchange in Chicago and the extension of Route 390 in the Bensenville area.
Tollway Executive Director Greg Bedalov warned drivers to watch out for new traffic patterns, uneven pavement, sudden stops and rough surfaces. The typical speed limit in construction zones is 45 mph.
O'Neil Douglas, a foreman for FH Paschen, described how drivers entered closed-off lanes at Meacham Road at I-90 last year and would have struck workers if not for a strategically placed construction vehicle.
Officials hope an upgrade on I-90 will improve safety and traffic flow. New digital message boards will provide real-time information about crashes, detours, travel times and other alerts. The 29 "smart corridor" boards between O'Hare International Airport and Barrington Road will go live in mid-August.
Two other much-anticipated improvements on I-90 are a "diverging diamond" interchange at Elmhurst Road and additional ramps to and from the west at Barrington Road.
The Barrington Road interchange will finish this summer.
The diverging diamond project briefly shifts traffic into opposite lanes using traffic signals and allows drivers to turn onto the toll road without facing oncoming vehicles. It will be completed in late 2017.