Dreading roadwork? So are the construction workers fearing distracted drivers

  • Illinois Department of Transportation and Illinois tollway employees urge drivers to watch out for workers as road construction ramps up this year. The traffic cones represent workers killed in crashes in work zones.

      Illinois Department of Transportation and Illinois tollway employees urge drivers to watch out for workers as road construction ramps up this year. The traffic cones represent workers killed in crashes in work zones. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

Stressed out about delays as road construction ramps up? It could be worse, said front-line construction workers at a National Work Zone Awareness Week event in Des Plaines.

"I think I'm dreading it just as much, if not more than the motorists," Illinois tollway equipment operator laborer John Wagner said. Roadwork "makes our job all the more complicated, and that's never a good thing."

A few years ago, Wagner parked his truck on the shoulder and climbed over the guardrail on the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) with a co-worker for an assignment. Seconds later, "our truck got hit by a distracted motorist who didn't even apply the brakes or anything," Wagner said. "We were literally inches from the truck as it got hit."

There's a special urgency this year after the deaths of three state troopers in crashes.

Illinois Department of Transportation and tollway officials are warning drivers to obey speed restrictions and watch for workers. More than 5,300 crashes occur in work zones annually in Illinois, causing more than 1,500 injuries. Eighteen people died in work zone crashes, including one worker, in 2018.

Although that's fewer than the 30 fatalities in 2017, Wagner said he feels like "it's getting worse."

"The volume of traffic is increasing" as are drivers absorbed by cellphones and GPS, he said.

Major construction projects this year include a new I-490 interchange with I-90 near Des Plaines, the widening of the Central Tri-State Tollway on the Mile Long Bridge near 75th Street, and the continued upgrade of the Jane Byrne Interchange in Chicago.

Tollway contractor Mike Wiater of Omega and Associates was nearly plowed down by a driver racing through a barricaded area at the Mile Long Bridge last September. The scare happened the same night worker Frank Caputo of Bartlett was struck and killed at the Tri-State and Touhy Avenue.

"I heard nothing until a gentleman with me yelled," Wiater said. "He grabbed me by the vest and pulled me back. A car was dodging around the equipment and trucks. There was fear, then I felt helpless knowing there were 25 to 30 (workers) down the road. We tried to yell, but they were half a mile down the road."

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