Failure to follow posted construction zone signs may put PennDOT workers at risk

SILVER SPRING TOWNSHIP, CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. -- A PennDOT contractor who was killed while working on Interstate 81 Friday is the most recent line-of-duty death in Pennsylvania.

Both PennDOT and State Police are using this time to remind people to drive with caution through construction zones.

PennDOT crews put their lives on the lines of the roadway every day. Both PennDOT and State Police want people to obey the posted traffic signs no matter the time of day.

PennDOT safety press officer Fritzi Schreffler said "our job is actually inherently very dangerous. Since 1970, we've lost 87 employees in the line of duty."

Friday night, State Police said an SUV struck and killed a PennDOT contractor on I-81 while he was setting up cones along the roadway in Greene Township, Franklin County.

PennDOT construction manager Justin Hostetler said "to have one of your fellow workers killed on an interstate, especially just below us, south of us here is, the dangers are real, the concerns are real."

Pennsylvania State Police trooper Brent Miller said "our reconstruction unit was down there, and reconstructed the entire crash. That report might take a couple months until everything is finalized."

PennDOT and State Police want drivers to follow the rules of the road in a construction zone.

"There's a 55 mile per hour reduced speed through this area but most vehicles are running 65, 70 plus miles an hour," Hostetler said.

"If they have a work zone and it's marked down to 55, even if they're not out there working, unless those signs are covered, you are still required to go 55," Schreffler said.

Reasons given for that include narrower than usual lanes or potential activity that can't be seen down the road. It's even more of a concern at night when visibility is low, except for the Pennsylvania State Police.

"At night, I have ticketed multiple people coming through, speed infractions through construction zones, or even lane violations as well, that they aren't moving over in time," Miller said.

It takes more than a fluorescent vest, concrete barriers, and road signs to keep workers safe.

"The dangers are always there, very much so that we have to keep our heads on a swivel, so to speak, just for overall production of our work here and the safety of our employees," Hostetler said.

"Everybody wants to go home at the end of the day to their family and friends. Our crews, our contractors deserve that same kind of respect, from you, so it's your responsibility as a motorist to make sure that happens," Schreffler said.

There's also continued help from State Police.

"To slow people down. Enforcement efforts are made through the construction zones too, radar is being run, penalties are doubled in construction zones too, fines are higher.

A driver accused of killing a PennDOT crew member could face a charge of homicide by vehicle, which is a third degree felony. If convicted, the driver faces a five-year mandatory sentence for the death of a road worker. That comes in addition to sentencing for a third degree felony, which carries a sentence of more than 10 years in prison.