The signs along I-280 in the East Toledo construction zone say the speed limit is 35 mph, but that doesn't keep some motorists from trying to go a little faster.
At least part of the time there's a Toledo police officer with a radar gun waiting at the far end of the work area to inflict some pain on those drivers' wallets.
“They want to go 60, so we're giving them tickets to remind them it's 35,” said Sgt. Paul Kirschbaum of the Toledo police traffic section. “The workers are continually complaining to us about people speeding through there.”
So far no one has been killed or seriously hurt in accidents along the stretch of I-280 between Starr Avenue and Front Street that weaves through piers being built for the freeway's new bridge over the Maumee River, giving it a roller-coaster profile that led to the 35-mph limit posted recently.
But several motorists died last year in work zones elsewhere in northwest Ohio, and statewide in 2002 there were 24 work zone deaths and 1,500 injuries, the Ohio Department of Transportation said.
“Our employees and contractors risk their lives every day to repair and rebuild our roads and highways,” said Rich Martinko, ODOT's district deputy director in Bowling Green. “But if you don't care about them, think of yourself. It only takes a split-second of bad judgment to cost a life.”
A vast majority of those killed or injured in work-zone crashes are, in fact, motorists - but workers die sometimes too. In 1996, Terry Walker, 58, of Napoleon was struck by a car and killed while moving a mispositioned construction barrel on I-75 in North Toledo. Two years earlier, Frederick Sattler, 47, of Perrysburg Township was hit by a truck at a work site on U.S. 20 in Fremont.
Scott LeStrange, general manager of Duffey Concrete Cutting in Toledo, for whom Mr. Sattler worked, said his firm became more selective in its construction-project bidding to protect its workers.
“After that we stopped bidding orange-barrel jobs,” he said. His reference was to work sites where only a line of construction barrels separates workers from traffic, leaving them exposed to wayward vehicles.
Craig Schneiderbauer, manager of ODOT's freeway maintenance outpost in Northwood, said the “cone zones” that maintenance crews often use are the most dangerous, because motorists seem less fearful about hitting cones than they are about orange barrels.
“Cones don't offer a whole lot of resistance to a vehicle. But you get hit in the head with one of those things, you feel it,” he said.
Mr. Schneiderbauer said he sees inappropriate driver behaviors in work areas every day he's out on the job, from speeding to cell-phone talking to reading periodicals or applying make-up. Last year, a motorcyclist used the cones in one zone as a slalom course.
“We have people drive into our work zone and ask us for directions - or stop in the travel lane, blocking traffic, to ask the workers,” he said.
And Joe Rutherford, now an ODOT administrator, recalled looking up from a 1980s job as a pavement testing engineer for a local firm and seeing a motor home bearing down on him in an I-75 work zone.
“You learn pretty quickly to never turn your back on traffic,” Mr. Rutherford said.
Thomas Stange, president of Safe Way Barricades in Toledo, agreed that alertness becomes a survival skill for highway workers.
Some motorists seem to speed up in work areas, he said, evidently hoping to offset any delays they might encounter down the road.
“We're just trying to do our job out there,'' Mr. Stange said. “We're not trying to cause an inconvenience for anyone.”
Though “it could be increased,” Mr. Stange said he considers police enforcement in Toledo-area work zones “adequate.”
Two crews are assigned daily to I-280, Sergeant Kirschbaum said, and when they aren't assisting construction workers with equipment moves, they're running radar. Police also have posted at least one radar sign showing motorists their speed and reminding them of the 35-mph limit.
Next week, the sergeant said, patrols will be out on I-75 near the Detroit Avenue overpass, which is being rebuilt.
Ohio adopted its double-fines law not long after Mr. Sattler's death, and Mr. LeStrange said he believes it has been effective - to a point.
“There's always going to be idiots out there,” he said. “But is it safer now than it was then? I think so.”