HARTFORD — Those who work on Connecticut’s highways made a passionate pitch Friday for a bill that would allow the use of automated traffic enforcement safety devices within maintenance work zones.
Distracted driving and total disregard for posted speed limits have made highway work zone maintenance a job more dangerous than ever before, Department of Transportation workers told lawmakers.
“Every single day we are out there we are putting our lives at risk. Our jobs are dangerous,” said Les Archer, a transportation maintainer for the DOT, speaking before the Transportation Committee’s public hearing.
Archer, who has worked for DOT for 24 years, said the issue was so important, he and several of his colleagues took time off from work to come to Hartford to testify in favor of HB 5198, An Act Concerning Maintenance Work Zone Safety Enforcement.
The bill would allow cameras to be placed in work zones where there are no police officers on duty starting next January. The cameras will be used to capture the license plate number of any vehicle driving 12 mph or more over the speed limit in a work zone. Tickets will then be mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle within about 10 days.
Any fines collected would be placed in a special “work zone safety account” to be used by the DOT to protect the safety of workers in highway work zones through highway traffic enforcement.
Archer told the committee a new bill might make motorists pay more attention to what’s going on around them and less attention to their cell phones.
“We workers deserve to be protected and respected for the work we do. We should not have to fear for our lives each day we go to work,” Archer said.
Archer said “everybody loves us when it’s snowing out but we are an annoyance, slowing the motoring public down the rest of time.”
“We have had workers killed on the side of the road,” Archer said. “It just has to stop.”
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, shared a story about having a blowout driving home from the state Capitol a few years ago. Just getting his car to the side of the road to change the flat was a harrowing experience, he said.
“Thankfully a good samaritan helped me out,” Kissell said, adding that he could not imagine what it would be like working on a wide-open highway “with people on their cell phones, distracted driving, people not paying attention.”
“People have become a little too selfish,” KIssel said. “I’m looking forward to working on this bill.”
Several states, including Pennsylvania, Washington, Illinois and Maryland have passed similar legislation.
DOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti expressed strong support for the intent of the bill in his written testimony. He said during the 2019 construction season, the DOT recorded 1,045 accidents within its work zones involving 2,094 vehicles.
“The majority of these incidents can be directly connected to excessive speed,” Giulietti said.
Also testifying in favor of the bill was Carl Chisem, president of the Connecticut Employees Union Independent, SEIU Local 511, representing over 3,600 state workers.
“The men and women who work for the CT DOT as Transportation Maintainers are in constant danger of being injured or killed by motor vehicles in our maintenance work zones,” Chisem told the committee.
Chisem said since January 1, 2018, data indicates 2,187 crashes occurred in Connecticut work zones. Of that group, there were six motorist fatalities and 647 injuries.
“Keep in mind that not all injuries are reported or recorded,” said Chisem, who added: “Please remember these numbers do not indicate the number of motorists who drive recklessly through work zones without incident. Our members witness these close calls daily and feel that their lives are at constant risk while doing their jobs.”Chisem implored the Transportation Committee to act. “These workers are not just statistics. They are mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers,” Chisem said. “Their families depend on them to come home at the end of each workday.”
Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, co-chair of the committee, said members heard the workers’ plea.
Leone referred to the fact that many testifying Friday have “18-wheelers whizzing by you” on a continuing basis.
“That’s your work zone, Leone told the DOT workers. “The need to do something is real and clear.”