SEMI FIRE

This photo posted by the Journal Times in Racine shows the incident on I-94 Wednesday.

At the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, safety is our No. 1 priority — period.

Safety in work zones takes on a heightened importance, because we are talking about the lives of both the motoring public and the lives of our men and women working in the zones to improve our roads.

The tragedy on June 19 when two semitrailer drivers were killed in a five-vehicle crash in the I-94 North-South work zone drew our immediate and undivided attention.

I quickly pulled together department experts from the southeast region, central office and the State Patrol to review everything WisDOT is doing in that work zone.

One of the first questions asked was the same one posed in a recent Kenosha News editorial: should we reduce the number of lanes from three each way to two each way for the rest of the summer? It is an obvious and legitimate question.

The answer, however, may not be as intuitive as it seems. Our engineers looked at this closely and have been monitoring results from when we went from two lanes in each direction to three. The fact of the matter is that injury, sideswipe and rear-end crashes are all down. In fact, this year, the three-lane configuration has cut the overall number of crashes in half.

Getting people to slow down through this work zone was an area, however, where we agreed we need to do better. Within days after that terrible crash, electronic speed boards were added, pavement markings enhanced, and law enforcement efforts were stepped up — including aerial patrol.

The speed limit through this long work zone is 60 mph. Fines will double if you speed through these zones and we ARE enforcing. Our current observations show 85th percentile speeds 10 mph over that 60-mph limit and many going even faster. That is unacceptable, and it is dangerous.

We need the help of the traveling public through this work zone. SLOW down. Put your cell-phones down and pay attention. It will save you much more than money.

We are on pace to have the south and central I-94 segments open to four-lane traffic in both directions by late fall. During and after the construction period, we’re asking drivers to please be patient, alert and safe at all times.

Together we can move toward zero deaths on Wisconsin roadways.

Craig Thompson is secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

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