Interstate 94 between Brooklyn Center and downtown Minneapolis — four and five lanes wide in most places — has always been somewhat of a raceway with drivers routinely spotted traveling well above the posted 60 mile per hour speed limit.

This spring, the Minnesota Department of Transportation turned the nine-mile segment between Nicollet Avenue and Shingle Creek Parkway into a giant construction zone and slimmed the freeway down to two lanes. But apparently that has not stopped motorists from putting the pedal to the metal, even though the agency in charge of building and maintaining state roads has asked them to slow down.

Motorists apparently thought MnDOT’s request was only a suggestion, and too many drivers have not changed their habits. So last week MnDOT turned to the State Patrol for help in bringing speeds down and keeping workers safe.

MnDOT is paying the patrol $75 to $100 an hour to watch over the work zone at various times of the day and tag leadfoots. A trooper nabbed one driver clocked at 74 mph where the speed limit is 55. Troopers have also cited drivers for other violations such as not wearing a seat belt, drifting over lanes and driving with a suspended driver’s license, said Lt. Tiffani Nielson.

“Blue and red lights are our saving grace,” said John Sloan, project manager for PCI Roads, the company MnDOT hired to carry out the $46 million project to repair 50 bridges and resurface the road. Police presence and the threat of a $300 fine for drivers caught speeding in a cone zone might have the desired effect. “If traffic reacted the same way to orange lights, there would be a different story here.”

Workers feel unsafe

MnDOT kept the speed limit at 60 mph (55 in the downtown area) to keep the more than 140,000 drivers who use the freeway daily moving at a reasonable pace, but things might get much slower if drivers don’t start complying. Sloan said his company is in talks with MnDOT to get permission to reduce the speed limit. If it were up to him, Sloan said he’d set the speed limit at 45.

“I see people fly by me all day long,” Sloan said. “People don’t listen to the speed limit. They get in the habit of going 70 in a 60, and now there are workers and 30,000-pound machines right next to the driving lane. There are a lot of hazards there and the workers feel unsafe. There just seems to be a lack of common sense.”

That common sense should include following the posted speed limit, paying attention, allowing for proper following distance based on the conditions, and not using cellphones. After all, work zones are a construction worker’s office.

“If people got a sense of what it’s like to work on the side of a highway, that might change their behavior,” Nielson said. Even with all the warning signs, “it seems like it takes drivers 22 seconds to speed up and two miles to slow down.”

Between 2006 and 2015, 18,731 crashes occurred in work zones statewide, resulting in 92 deaths and 7,861 injuries, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. No workers have been hit since the I-94 project started, and no serious crashes have happened yet.

I-94 is not the only place drivers have misbehaved. Tickets have been handed out to heavy-footed drivers in single lane configurations on Hwy. 169 between I-394 and Lincoln Drive through Hopkins and Edina, said MnDOT spokesman David Aeikens.

 

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