Highway Construction Workers Nervous About Higher Speed Limits

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DICKSON CITY – When Penndot raises the speed limit to 70 miles per hour on two area interstate highways next month, it will also raise the speed limit in work zones to 55.

Area construction workers call that move frightening.

“One thing between me and you is this barrier wall,” says worker Gene DeGraffenreid of Kingston.  “And if someone hits it at 55, we`re both gone.”

DeGraffenried and his colleagues told Newswatch 16 they were nervous at a highway construction site on I-81 in Dickson City, where the work zone speed limit is 45.

In three weeks, work zone speed limit will be 55 along a 22-mile stretch of i-380, and on 89-miles of I-80 where Penndot will raise the regular speed limit to 70.

“Some people are just in a hurry to go nowhere,”

“They don`t abide by the speed limit one bit.  They do what they want to do,” added his co-worker Gary Wasman of Lake Ariel.

In the last ten years in our state, 249 people died in work zones, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

49 of them were construction workers, making Pennsylvania the fourth deadliest in the nation.

The most up-to-date numbers come from 2012, where 21 people died in work zones in Pennsylvania, including 3 construction workers.

These deaths hit workers hard.

In 2001. Penndot workers mourned the death of one of their own: Richard Bradley of West Hazleton.
He worked as a flag man when he was struck by a student who told police he may have fallen asleep at the wheel at the Butler Township accident site.

The tragedy devastated his Penndot co-workers who witnessed the crash.

“To lose a friend like this. I’m just in shock to see something like this happening.  It’s really upsetting,” said his co-worker Dave Kusek days after the tragedy.

Gene DeGraffenreid knows the feeling.

He fears what will might happen if there’s a wreck at a construction are where the work zone speed limit will soon be 55.

“You`re going home in two ways,” said DeGraffenreid.  “You`re going home in an ambulance or in a casket.  That`s the only way I can put it to you.”

State police say they will discourage work zone speeding at the 55 mile-per-hour work zones by beefing up patrols, and hiding in construction vehicles with a radar gun.

But construction workers tell us the real problem is people driving legally through these construction zones at 55 miles per hour.

They say 55 is too fast.


  • james

    if their so worried about the speed limit being changed then quit milking the jobs and get them done i always go through construction sights and guess what i see everybody sitting down talking. stop relaxing and get to work just because your union and spending our money dosent mean take your sweat old time.

  • bobc74

    Of course no one abides by the speed limit. Until the State Police get serious about enforcing it and driving at that limit themselves. I don’t know how many times I’ve been passed by a police vehicle going 10-15 miles over the speed limit, even though their flashing lights weren’t on.

  • Franko

    I don’t understand it – other states that have 65 to 70 mph speed limits have 55mph construction zones and you don’t hear of accidents and fatalities like you do around here — maybe people just don’t know how to drive around here. And as for the concrete barriers and construction zones — we set up miles and miles of these things and call them construction zones even if the construction itself is in one little spot. In other states they still have regular highway speeds because concrete barriers are considered permanent structures, that doesn’t make it a construction zone, but here we restrict everything and call everything construc zones for 5 miles. They are permanent structures, just like the ones that you would find down further in a non-construction zone. This is the only state where you consistently have lower speeds 24/7/365 for several years with very little going on. Also in other states, concrete barriers don’t always constitute a construction zone, if there are there for long durations the speed limit remains the same. Here in PA they want every area down to 40/45 — that was originally meant for when they used to use the construction horses with the flashing lights or when they use cones not permanent concrete structures.

    And I don’t know what the concern is about the speed limit going up — the area has a law which prohibits the speed being more than 55 in areas like Scranton, so it’s never going up to 70 anyway. It affects 81 from Clarks Summit all the way past Wilkes Barre and on 84 in the Dunmore area.

  • Charlie Lucky

    Any speed is too fast for the workers on 81, because if you watch them work, they only have 2 speeds, slow and reverse. But drivers should take caution in a work zone, it’s just common sense, nobody wants to hit and injure anyone, just slow down!!!

  • James C. Walker

    Michigan has a better work zone speed limit procedure. Normal 70 zones go to 60 IF there is a reason such as narrowed lanes, no shoulder lanes, lane shifts, etc. Then the signs say “45 Where Workers Present” which forces drivers to actually look for workers. The 45 limits does NOT apply if the workers are all behind concrete barriers or far down in a wide median away from the traffic lanes.

    It works and drivers respect it. James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

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