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Work zone flashing lights difficult to see, some say

August 02, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Anyone who has driven on Interstate 81 in West Virginia has probably seen them - traditional 55 mph signs flanked on the top by an orange "Work Zone" sign and at the bottom by an orange sign that reads "When Flashing."

If the two round orange lights atop the sign are blinking, drivers are supposed to slow down from the normally legal 70 mph.

The problem is people are not slowing down and although police issue citations for speeding, some citations have been dismissed in Berkeley County Magistrate Court because the accused argued the lights were not flashing.

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At the Berkeley County Commission meeting Thursday morning, the commissioners and Sheriff W. Randy Smith signed a letter to a local Division of Highways representative, asking that the "When Flashing" sign either be covered with tape or removed.

Smith said magistrates have dropped about six speeding citations because of the nonflashing argument.

Bill Shanklin, who oversees construction projects in the Eastern Panhandle for the Division of Highways, said the lights can be difficult to see, especially if the sun is shining on or behind them. Also, the lights are directional, he said, meaning a driver has to be almost right in front of them to see them.

A contractor ensures batteries are kept in the flashers, which are left on 24 hours a day on stretches of I-81 because of several ongoing construction projects, Shanklin said.

Shanklin, who works from a Leetown, W.Va., office, said he told highways officials in Charleston a couple of years ago that the lights are sometimes difficult to see, but nothing has been done about it. He said he would favor using a strobe light during the day.

The problem is not limited to the Eastern Panhandle, he said.

"I've noticed this problem all over West Virginia in all the traveling I've done," he said.

Roger Russell, traffic operations engineer with the Department of Highways, said he has received a few complaints, but most can be traced to battery problems.

The high intensity, type B flashing lights are powered by two six-volt batteries, Russell said. State officials began using the flashers in the early 1990s, he said.

"The excuse that they're not visible is just an excuse," he said. "I can see them."

Russell said the bulbs generate 35 candelas. By comparison, the continuous burning type A bulbs placed on top of barrels to warn of upcoming lane closures burn at four candelas, he said.

A candela is a measure of luminous intensity.

Russell said work-zone flashers are to be used only in three instances - when a lane is closed, when a lane is narrower than usual and when a detour or lane shift is in place.

"Even if you can't see the flashers, common sense tells you you should slow down" he said.

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