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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Be tolerant of road work

I don’t think anyone is happy to see “Road Work Ahead” signs while driving.  Those warnings typically foreshadow miles of detours, single lanes, and lowered speed limits.  But even though we dislike the slowdowns that come with them, those signs also represent good things to come:  better roads!

Though we may not be able to muster downright giddiness at such signage sightings, we should at least be tolerant of them.  I hear no shortage of complaints about potholes and stud-caused ruts during the winter, so construction alerts should be seen as welcome harbingers of safe, smooth roads ahead.

The main way to show tolerance in work zones is to observe the construction speed limit.  Reduced speeds are posted for the safety of both motorists and workers.

Over the recent holiday, I made a round trip to Billings, Montana.  Over the 530-mile one-way distance on Interstate 90, approximately 200 total miles, in segments of 5 to 25 miles, were under construction.

Engineers implementing the work zones are definitely mindful of safety and efficient traffic flow.  With traffic used to travelling at a normal 75 mile per hour speed limit, construction slowdowns and reduced-lane transitions must be well designed.

For this trip, one of the two lanes normally available for traffic in each direction was generally open, requiring no complete stops or pilot cars.  There were three occasions where both usual same-direction lanes were closed, but nearby exit and entrance ramps where employed as detours.  In one instance, a new temporary road was constructed adjacent to the freeway for an unencumbered detour route.  At times, short paved sections were added to direct detoured traffic over to the oncoming side of the freeway.

With this efficiency, there was no excuse to be intolerant of the construction, though some drivers seemed to be.  Each of the dozen or more zones posted reduced speeds of 45 mph, 55 mph or 65 mph, depending on detour route and conditions.  Even though drivers were forewarned of right or left lane closures, detours and slowdowns a mile in advance, the merge points still had aggressive drivers jockeying for position and tailgating others (like me) who chose to observe the construction zone speeds.

If not for the safety of themselves and workers, one might expect drivers to slow down to avoid the risk of being cited for speeding in those zones.  Something that Washington, Idaho and Montana all have in common is that fines for infractions in work areas are increased from the norm (doubled and mandatory in Washington, for example).  There’s a valid reason for that:  Statistical data of construction zone worker injuries reveals evidence of their vulnerability!

Unfortunately, it seems that many drivers are willing to risk cost or mayhem, since virtually every time I curbed my speed according to the construction limit, some impatient driver was “pushing” me through the zone.  Risking the monetary penalty is one thing; putting the lives of construction workers in unnecessary peril is another.

Showing such impatience is unwarranted.  A one-way trip to Billings from Spokane normally takes around 7.5 hours with one stop (Deer Lodge is just past half way).  On this latest round-trip, observing the construction and non-construction speed limits, I still accomplished each one-way leg in under 8 hours.  If someone has serious time issues, they should avoid summer driving altogether.

For one merge, in a maneuver I’ve seen before, an 18-wheeler pulled out to block a driver who was speeding past the traffic lined up for the merge point.  I don’t recommend doing that, since it can easily spark incidents of road rage, but the trucker had apparently seen enough of such irrational behavior that day.

Expect construction delays on both local roads and interstate highways every summer.  In states with a harsh winter, that’s the only practical time to make repairs!

Yes, it would be ideal to never face road construction while driving.  The end result of that reality, however, would be ever-deteriorating and unacceptable roadways.  So let’s be tolerant of those brief slowdowns for road repairs — in the big picture, they won’t be major delays, and your consideration will enhance safety for everyone involved.

Readers may contact Bill Love via email at