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Road construction calls for driver caution

June 17, 1999

Road constructionBy JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




Tri-State area drivers will have to exercise caution this summer as they encounter more jersey walls, orange cones and machinery on the region's state and federal highways.

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Construction projects to repave, expand and replace sections of highways are under way or will be started this year.

More road work than usual will be undertaken because of the $203 billion highway bill President Clinton signed into law a year ago, transportation officials said.

It sounds basic, but drivers need to slow down, said Myra Wieman, spokeswoman with AAA Mid-Atlantic in Towson, Md.

"Most of the accidents that do occur (are) because drivers are over the posted speed limit," Wieman said.

In addition to work at temporary construction sites along I-81, crews have been working since March to replace northbound and southbound bridges on I-81 near Falling Waters, W.Va., said Bill Shanklin, construction engineer with the West Virginia Division of Highways. The new bridges are built as the old ones are torn down in stages.

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The road beneath the bridges, Koontown Road, also known as County Route 11/5, is closed while traffic lanes on the interstate are shifted to accommodate construction, Shanklin said.

Work on the $2.8 million project is expected to be complete by December, he said.

The old two-lane bridges are being replaced by bridges that will accommodate three lanes and have full shoulders, Shanklin said. Plans are to expand the interstate around the bridges to three lanes, but that work won't be done for years, he said.

Shanklin said the federal funding helps move along construction work that has been needed for years, including the bridge replacements.

A $15.4 million bridge is being built across the Shenandoah River at Harpers Ferry on Md. 340 to replace one that was built in the early 1950s and is "shot," Shanklin said.

Except for the occasional slow-moving truck entering and exiting traffic from the construction site that project shouldn't affect drivers too much, Shanklin said.

Drivers are using the existing bridge, which will be torn down after the new one is completed in October 2000, he said.

In Washington County, crews are building a $14 million interchange at Interstate 81 and Halfway Boulevard. The new interchange, which is expected to be done by September 2001, will include an eight-lane bridge and a partial cloverleaf design.

I-81 also will be repaved from Halfway Boulevard to the Pennsylvania state line.

In Franklin County, Pa., U.S. 11 will be resurfaced from Pa. 914 to Chambersburg for $2.3 million.

That project starts in August and is expected to be completed in June 2000. Some lanes will be closed occasionally before or after afternoon rush hour, said Mike Crochunis with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

More than 700 people are killed and 37,000 injured each year in highway construction-related accidents.

There have been several minor accidents along Interstate 81 construction areas in Berkeley County this year, but so far not as many as last year, said Sgt. Deke Walker with the West Virginia State Police.

Many of the accidents occur as a driver tries to merge into another lane while approaching a lane closure and sideswipes another vehicle, said Walker, commander of the I-81 patrol. Then there are the accidents in which a driver isn't paying attention to the vehicle ahead and doesn't stop in time.

Two Waynesboro, Pa., residents were killed May 25 in a fiery crash on I-81 north of Shippensburg, Pa., when their car apparently was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer in a construction zone, according to Pennsylvania State Police.

If you're caught speeding in a construction zone in the Tri-State area, fines can be increased or doubled, according to AAA and state police.

A new West Virginia law took effect this month discouraging speeders in construction zones by adding jail time to the possible penalty.

If drivers are caught speeding more than 15 mph above the posted speed limit, the driver could face a $200 fine and/or 20 days in jail, Walker said.

AAA's Wieman said drivers need to stay focused because lanes are narrower in construction zones and there is a lot of heavy machinery around.

As simple as that sounds it can be easy to get distracted by changing radio stations or checking on the kids in the back seat, Wieman said.

People can find out where construction is being done along highways so they can plan detours or at least be mentally prepared for delays, Wieman said.

AAA members can get nationwide construction updates at AAA offices, Wieman said.

The Maryland Department of Transportation publishes a brochure called Road Ready '99 that is updated twice a year and lists this year's construction projects, she said. Call the construction hotline at 1-800-323-6742 for Maryland information.

The Web site www.tcli.com/dotinfo.html provides links to all the state transportation departments, most of which have construction hotlines or brochures, Wieman said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

related story:

-- Major road work under way

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