DEVENS – Massachusetts State Police, state and federal highway officials converged on the former Moore Army airfield on Devens on April 19 with a reminder to the public in advance of Highway Work Zone Awareness Week on April 23-27.
“Please, please slow down as you drive through work areas,” said Richard Davey, MassDOT Secretary. Davey said the agencies are uniting to boost awareness as the heavy bridge- and road- construction seasons gets into full swing, with $3 billion worth of roadwork slated across the state.
Public Safety and Security Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan said there are 208 new troopers on the road, “It’s my job to ensure they remain safe.”
Heffernan said the new push comes on the heels of the successful media blitz for the “Move Over Law” requiring motorists to pull over for passing emergency vehicles and move out of lanes nearest emergency responders assisting motorists on the sides of the road.
“We want to do the same thing with the work safety zone,” said Heffernan.
Over the past two years, there have been more than 70 crashes at Massachusetts roadway work sites involving either a state trooper or a police cruiser. Though launched it’s motorist work site awareness campaign last November, the agencies gathered on Thursday to drive the point home.
The plan is for a dozen special state police teams, consisting of two troopers, at roadside work sites around the state on any given work day. The teams will be in action at any random site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Massachusetts State Police Colonel Marian McGovern said while it may appear routine at first blush, motorists should keep in mind that police officers, highway workers and contractors are working in conditions where there can be nothing more than a road cone, a cruiser or a plastic barrel between them and a “truck passing just a few feet away.”
McGovern noted that later this season a bridge on Route 95 will be dedicated in memory of State Police Sgt. Doug Weddleton who was killed while working on a roadside work site on Route 95 in Mansfield.
Early on the morning of June 18, 2010, Weddleton pulled over a suspected drunk driver while he was blocking traffic at the Exit 6 off ramp. While standing aside that car, Weddleton was struck and pinned by a pickup truck driven by another suspected drunk driver.
Weddleton was a 28-year veteran of the Massachusetts State Police and was stationed out of the Foxboro barracks. The 52-year old was married with four sons ranging in ages from 14 to 26. Weddleton had attended his son’s eighth-grade graduation ceremony mere hours before the crash.
Since the special initiative began last fall, there have been 3,500 stops, with 2,000 citations issued for speeding, 400 citations for operating without wearing a seat belt, 75 tickets for aggressive driving and six drunk driving arrests in work zones.
State Police Lt. Daniel Griffin provided a demonstration for reporters, speeding down the vacant airfield strip in an unmarked car while Troopers Chris Boudreau and Jason Berry stood by a staged work site, clocking Griffin’s speed with a radar gun, and calling ahead to a waiting trooper further down the ‘road.’
As Griffin approached the scene, a message board flashed a warning that he was exceeding the posted and reduced speed limit.
Speeding through a work zone causes a double of the ticket. But there’s a bigger toll.
“At the end of the day, we want to make sure that every worker goes home in one piece,” said John Pourbaix, Executive Director of the Construction Industries of Massachusetts.
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.