Tollway needs help from motorists to ensure worker safety

Last year, we lost one of our colleagues at the Illinois Tollway when he was struck and killed by a vehicle while working along the Tri-State Tollway. Nearly a year to the day after that tragedy, we lost yet another member of our extended family when construction worker Frank Caputo died after being hit by a car while repairing pavement in a work zone on the Tri-State Tollway.

The Illinois Tollway is committed to safety. That commitment is not only to our customers, but also to the Illinois State Police, first responders who patrol our roads, to the workers who build and maintain our system and to our employees who manage our entire system.

Those on our construction sites are out there every day working to deliver safer and better roads for our commuters and our commuters owe it to them to slow down and avoid distracted and impaired driving. Distracted motorists talking on the phone, texting, eating, impaired or reckless - we've seen it all.

The same night Frank Caputo was killed, a crew several miles down the road lived to tell their story of another motorist flying through their work zone nearly striking them. Their story is frightening. We as a Tollway are proud of our record on safety, but we can always do better. It is unacceptable for any of our workers to be hurt or killed. We're constantly looking at ways to improve work zone safety and adopt new technology to protect the workers on our roads and the motoring public.

We are working with Illinois State Police District 15 to ensure more troopers on our roadways are available to conduct additional speed and safety enforcement details in work zones. Drivers who endanger workers need to know they will be held accountable for their actions.

To reinforce this message, the Tollway is joining with State Sen. Tom Cullerton to propose new safety legislation that enacts a $1,000 fine for drivers who intentionally cut through work zones. Current work zone penalties impose fines for speeding, but not specifically for drivers who encroach on work zones. The proposed legislation would increase the maximum fine for a driver who strikes a worker from $10,000 to $25,000. We believe that making these changes will provide more protection for roadway workers by deterring drivers from making dangerous decisions.

We plan to work closely with legislators to see that these proposals become law and will continue to look at different and innovative ways to make our roads safer for our workers and first responders. We're committed to safety, but we can't do it alone. We need our customers to help us. We are asking customers to alert us when they see drivers flagrantly ignoring work zone speed limits, driving around construction barriers or cutting through work zones - endangering not only workers, but themselves.

Most importantly, we are asking all of our customers to slow down in work zones, to think first about the safety of our workers and first responders. We can keep everyone safer if we all work together.

Bob Schillerstrom is chairman of the Illinois Toll Highway Authority.

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