Working 5 feet from danger
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation crews worked to cold patch a portion of Route 248 between Lehighton and Palmerton on Wednesday morning.
Less than 5 feet away, motorists zoomed past the work site. Many were estimated to be traveling 15-20 mph over the speed limit.
It’s an every day occurrence, according to PennDOT’s Corey Reph, who manages road crews in the area.
“We talk all the time about safety,” Reph said.
“Every morning we meet and follow that up every afternoon after lunch so our guys don’t get complacent. We have added extra guys to the crew and their job is to watch the guys behind them. On our end, we’re trying to be as diligent as we can in protecting both our guys and the motorists.”
PennDOT is recognizing this as work zone safety week. It comes at an appropriate time after three of its crew members were struck while working on Interstate 80 on Tuesday.
“We never want to have to call families and give them bad news,” said Sean Brown, PennDOT spokesman. “Thank goodness nobody lost their life, but it could have easily gone another way. We also don’t want to see motorists injured, so it’s just so important to reinforce the message of slowing down and being aware of your surroundings any chance we get.”
With the speed limit lowered 10 mph so crews can tend to Route 248, Brown knows motorists are frustrated, especially if they are running late.
It’s also important, he said, to get the job done right.
“We get the complaints, especially about Route 248,” Brown said. “We’re out here every day patching when the materials come in and the weather cooperates. As it stays warmer, we can get a lot done so you’ll see this road in good shape soon.”
Reph said crews are starting by cold patching the holes, which is followed by a process called spray patching.
“That’s a mixture of stone and emulsion,” he said. “We put that on top then bring a 5-ton roller through and roll the potholes for compaction.”
How long will the process take? It all depends on the severity of the potholes.
“It can be anywhere from an hour to four hours per mile,” Reph said.
Preliminary PennDOT data shows there were 1,789 crashes across the state in work zones that resulted in 19 fatalities and 1,114 injuries last year.
Both Brown and Reph encourage motorists to stay off their phones, hold off on changing the radio station and, most importantly, slow down when going through work zones.
“Keep your eyes in front of you,” Reph said. “It only takes a split second for you to veer out of the lane and we’re right there. Any slip up can cost someone their life.”