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


Coping with roadwork

Nobody looks forward to seeing “Road Work Ahead” signs while driving.  Those warnings foreshadow miles of detours, single lanes, and lowered speed limits.  But even though we dislike the slowdowns that accompany them, those warning signs also represent good things in our collective future:  better roads!

Though we may never express joy at such signage sightings, we should at least be tolerant of them.  There are many complaints about potholes and stud-caused ruts during the winter, so construction alerts should be seen as welcome harbingers of better roads to come.

The best show of tolerance in work zones is compliance with the construction speed limit.  Reduced speeds are posted for the safety of both motorists and workers.

On my last trip through Montana, approximately 200 miles, in several 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 the omnipresent 80 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.  Construction zone speeds were altered accordingly.

To me, traffic movement was never slowed enough to warrant impatience, though some drivers seemed quite so.  Most 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 posted 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 doubled from the norm.  There’s a valid reason for that:  Statistical data of construction zone worker injuries reveals evidence of their vulnerability.

Many drivers seem willing to risk the cost or mayhem, since whenever I dropped my speed to match the construction limit, an impatient driver was “pushing” me through the zone.  Risking the monetary penalty affects only the offender, but putting the lives of construction workers and others in peril can harm others.

A one-way trip to Billings from Spokane normally takes around 7.5 hours with one quick gas stop.  On my-trip, observing the construction and non-construction speed limits, I still accomplished each one-way leg in under 8 hours, rendering construction intolerance illogical.

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.  Please 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 e-mail at