Editor’s Note: The Yukon Progress is publishing a series of articles highlighting various facets of the state transportation department’s year-long “Make Safety Stick: Everybody Click” awareness effort, with a focus on Canadian County. Work zone safety is the topic of today’s article.
By Conrad Dudderar
With four current state highway construction projects in Canadian County, state transportation officials are asking motorists to be especially vigilant in work zones.
Slow down. Pay extra attention to the signs and what’s happening around you. And put down your mobile phone – while eliminating all distractions – when driving through road construction.
“As the weather gets better, that’s our prime construction season,” said Shawn Davis, director of operations at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. “Starting in April, that’s when a lot of our projects will be kicking off.
“Throughout the spring and summer, you’ll see up to 270 work zones on our network – the state highways, interstates and turnpikes. Most of those 270 are construction projects that last 30 days-plus – some a lot longer than that. In addition, there will be work zones set up across the state for routine maintenance.”
Two large ODOT construction projects are underway in eastern Canadian County, the Interstate 40/Frisco Road interchange and State Highway 4 in Yukon.
There are two other ongoing state transportation projects on US-81 – a bridge reconstruction over the railroad in El Reno and a bridge rehabilitation over the North Canadian River north of El Reno.
Davis shared advice to motorists across Canadian County about work zone safety – April’s topic in the state transportation department’s year-long “Make Safety Stick – Everybody Click” campaign. The driver awareness effort is being promoted by the ODOT and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.
Davis knows what he’s talking about. A lifelong Calumet resident in western Canadian County, Davis has worked in transportation for 31 years – with 28 of those at ODOT.
State transportation personnel and contractor crews aim to stay safe as they improve Oklahoma’s highways, interstates and turnpikes.
“We put up safety devices – the barrels and cones that you see out there along with the signs,” Davis shared. “The workers also wear their safety apparel – their vests and their hard hats – to make themselves more visible in the work zones.”
ELIMINATING ‘BAD HABITS’
Being distracted while behind the wheel is a leading cause of traffic collisions, data indicates.
So, paying attention is particularly important for drivers as they approach a construction area.
“The top three causes of work zone fatalities are speeding, following too closely and distracted driving,” Davis explained. “If people would just eliminate those three bad habits, we could cut down – almost to zero – the fatalities in work zones.
“In Oklahoma work zones in the past five years, there’s been 83 people killed. That includes two ODOT workers killed in the line of duty.”
Safety is indeed the focus of the state transportation department’s 2021 “Make Safety Stick: Everybody Click” crusade.
“We just want cooperation from the motorists to help us with this campaign,” Davis said. “We want them to partner with us in this effort.”
Besides keeping everyone safe on state roadways, there is a financial incentive for motorists to slow down and pay attention when driving through road construction areas.
That’s because fines double for traffic violations in work zones when workers are present.
ODOT and OTA officials have seen a recent uptick in vehicles on state highways and turnpikes after a decline during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when many people stayed home.
“I heard the Secretary (Tim Gatz) talk about it just the other day,” Davis related. “We are back up to about pre-COVID traffic levels. It’s a little bit different traffic – not as much commuter traffic, but definitely truck traffic and other kinds of traffic are back up to what we saw before.”
OKC METRO TRAFFIC IMPACT
Oklahoma City metro construction projects with the most impact to traffic are:
· I-235/US-77/Broadway Ext. and I-44 interchange – Off Broadway: Up to $105 million project to reconstruct and widen I-235 to up to at least six lanes between N. 50th and N.W. 63rd and construct a four-level interchange with flyover ramps at I-44 began in late March 2019 and continues through fall 2021.
· I-40 bridge reconstruction and widening at Crutcho Creek, S.E. 15th and Sooner Road in Del City: The six bridges will be reconstructed and widened for future additional lanes along I-40 at an estimated nearly $80 million in a combined project between Sunnylane and Sooner Road in Del City.
· I-40 interchange construction at Frisco Road in Yukon: A new $14 million I-40 interchange will be built at Frisco Road to relieve traffic congestion at nearby interchanges including Garth Brooks Boulevard (mm 136). Completion expected in fall 2021.
· I-35 bridge rehabilitation over Stillwater Central Railroad between just south of I-40 and the Oklahoma River and S.E. 15th: The I-35 bridge between S.E. 15th and I-40 and the Oklahoma River will be rehabilitated and will include deck and limited structure repairs. This nearly $2 million project will significantly impact traffic through summer 2021.
· I-44 pavement and bridge rehabilitation between I-40 and S.W. 74th: This $28 million project to rehabilitate the I-44 bridges and pavement between I-40 and S.W. 74th and rehabilitate several bridges in the corridor continues through 2021. This includes the rehabilitation of the bridges over the Oklahoma River, bridges over S.W. 29th, eastbound bridge over Independence Ave., bridges over S.W. 59th, and eastbound bridge over I-240.