A $50,000 grant the Ohio Department of Transportation has provided to Toledo police for extra speed enforcement in a West Toledo construction zone won't come close to paying for round-the-clock patrols - but it won't hurt, either.
During one recent three-week period - Aug. 25 to Sept. 15 - 16 crashes occurred in the construction area on I-475 between I-75 and Bowen Road, and Toledo police wrote at least 40 tickets for moving violations in the work zone during the week of Sept. 20, said Theresa Pollick, a department spokesman in Bowling Green.
A "50 is Nifty" campaign is intended to urge motorists to honor the 50-mph speed limit in the work zone by reminding them about doubled fines for those ticketed for violations as well as appealing to safety considerations, she said.
"The more people we can get to know about it, maybe they'll think twice" before driving unsafely in the construction area, the spokesman said.
Sgt. Albert Papenfus of the Toledo Police Department's traffic section said the $50,000 funds the department will receive from a department of transportation work-zone safety fund will boost by about four hours a week the time police patrol the zone because the money is supposed to last through the $64 million I-475 project's 2013 completion.
The work-area speed limit is posted for the easternmost two miles of I-475 in West Toledo, plus a short section of I-75 between Detroit Avenue and the Jeep Parkway interchange.
The normal posted speed limit in the area is 60 mph on both freeways. Traveling two miles at 60 mph takes 2 minutes; slowing down to 50 mph adds 20 seconds.
But Sergeant Papenfus said many motorists pulled over since the construction began Aug. 2 weren't even observing the normal speed limit. Laser speed readings taken from cruisers stationed on the closed Monroe Street entrance ramp to eastbound I-475 - "where they're coming in off Secor and flying around those curves" - have pegged drivers entering the work zone at speeds of up to 82 mph, he said.
The lowest recorded speed on any of the tickets issued during the week Ms. Pollick cited was 66, the sergeant said.
Overall, he said, police working extra duty in the zone wrote 64 tickets last month and would have written more had they not occasionally been diverted to assist with accidents.
Motorists traveling with the flow of traffic are unlikely to get into trouble even if that flow is a bit over 50, Sergeant Papenfus added. The drivers police are most likely to pull over are those who are going visibly faster than other traffic, tailgating, and changing lanes unsafely, because those are the ones who cause crashes.
"We're more concerned with the safety of workers," he said, noting that all of the crashes so far have been rear-enders or sideswipes. "The lanes are narrower than usual, and trucks can't stop quickly if you cut them off."
But in parts of the work zone, 50 mph may be too fast, especially as weather worsens in the winter, Sergeant Papenfus said, citing the ramp from eastbound I-475 to northbound I-75 as an example. "If you're going over 50, you're going to have a real problem staying between the walls and not ping-ponging off them in there," he said.
According to the department of transportation, the doubled fine for exceeding the 50 mph limit by up to 19 mph is $178, while drivers running between 70 and 79 mph face a $258 ticket. The driver going 82 got a $408 citation.
Motorists whom police officers signal to pull over should wait to do so until they reach a spot where they can pull clear of traffic. "The biggest problem with the work zone is there's no real place to pull them over" except on the ramps or at the ends, Sergeant Papenfus said.
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