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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 21, 2017

State urging driver safety as traffic picks up

By Rod Boshart, Gazette Des Moines Bureau | May 16, 2017

DES MOINES — State transportation officials are using new technology in highway work zones to better manage traffic and improve safety, but Gov. Terry Branstad joined others Monday in stressing the best defense against work zone deaths is being an alert driver.

Iowa roads are seeing an uptick in the number of farm implements on them as spring field work progresses, Branstad said, and the state Department of Transportation is starting a busy construction season following a year that saw deaths and injuries in work zones increase above average.

In 2016, there were 199 crashes involving farm vehicles resulting in six deaths and 18 major injuries. Highway work zones in Iowa were twice as deadly as the recent five-year average, with 13 fatalities and about 600 crashes, he said.

Already this year, there have been two people killed in work zones compared with the yearly average of seven. There have been 27 farm-related crashes, with one man killed when a pickup crashed into his tractor near Aurora.

That death made national news because it involved Chris Soules, a former star on ABC’s “The Bachelor” reality TV show, who faces a felony hit-and-run charge.


Overall, 98 deaths have been reported on Iowa highways this year, DOT officials said.

“These numbers aren’t just statistics. They are lives, they are someone’s loved one,” Branstad said.

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds noted a draft five-year highway plan calls for $680 million in construction and repair work on Iowa roads and bridges this year, which will translate into more than 500 state work zones and scores more on county and city roads.

“We have seen the largest number of construction projects in Iowa history the last two years. That growth means more work zones and greater responsibility for drivers,” she said.

Interim Iowa DOT Director Mark Lowe told reporters his agency is implementing an intelligent work zones program in about 30 “traffic-critical” projects with curves, hills or other special situations that include the use of cameras, sensors and electronic messaging boards to give drivers and monitors better awareness of changing traffic conditions.

Space sensors can detect when traffic is slowing or when a queue of vehicles is building, which triggers changes to electronic signs to warn motorists and signal traffic managers to take action. The could include changes to the message boards, alerts for the 511 information system, activating additional detours or dispatching authorities.

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