"Safety is the number one priority, both for motorists and workers," said Willy Chasteen, district operations engineer for MoDOT. "We urge those traveling through construction zones to obey the signs and use caution around work zones for their own safety."
"We depend upon our traffic control devices to keep them off us," agreed Darius Dowdy, resident engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation office in Sikeston. "Whether it's to slow down or move over, if they don't do that they take a chance of hurting someone - a worker or themselves."
More than 40,000 people are injured in work zone crashes every year nationwide. In 2002, 28 people died and 1,646 people were injured in Missouri work-zone crashes, according to MoDOT officials.
"I've got friends and workers involved and I'm out there myself," Dowdy said. "I don't want to leave kids and a wife behind. Nobody wants to leave family behind."
With more than 625 active construction projects and hundreds of maintenance projects throughout Missouri this year, odds are most motorists will travel though several work zones this summer.
"The only thing we have right now is in Mississippi County - the Route 105 bridge deck replacement project," said Dowdy. "For this office that's the main project."
While most of the projects in this area have not begun yet, the message is by no means too early. "I have some concerns about the project at Charleston," said Dowdy, "they drive too fast through there."
Dowdy said they anticipate restriping all four-lane highways in the district this season.
"It's a slow moving operation. When you're striping you are usually doing 15 mph or less," said Dowdy, "so when you get traffic coming up on you at 70 mph, that's a big problem."
Bob Wilson at the district's Jackson office confirmed concrete pavement repair is planned for "areas that are cracked and falling apart" on Interstate 55 between Benton and Sikeston, but the bid has not been awarded yet.
"We will close down one lane at a time for about a mile or two, and do all the patching," Wilson said. "They'll be closed for about a week at a time so the repairs can be made and so the concrete can get strength."
He urged those who drive through construction zones to "stay alert and be patient."
Other projects slated for this season in the area to keep an eye open for include: one-inch asphalt overlay for nearly 11 miles of Route 80 which runs between Interstate 55 and East Prairie; one-inch asphalt overlay for about 24 miles of Route 153 which runs between Dexter and Morehouse; one-inch asphalt overlay for .7 mile of Route TT in Dudley.
In addition to Work Zone Awareness Week, MoDOT's statewide Drive Smart public awareness campaign begins Monday and will continue through the summer.
"Driving smart means something different to every driver," said MoDOT Director Dave Snider. "It might mean paying closer attention when you drive, avoiding cellphone use, following the speed limits - the possibilities are endless. What we want everyone to realize is that their choices dictate whether they get home safely - and this holds true especially in work zones."
This is the second year for the Drive Smart campaign, having received two national awards in its first year.
The campaign includes statewide radio messages targeting drivers age 16-25 as this group makes up 35 percent of work-zone fatalities.
Billboards along routes where work zones will be set up this summer will also help spread the work-zone safety message.
MoDOT offers the following tips for safely passing through work zones:
* Plan your trip before you even begin driving - contact MoDOT for the latest project information.
* Stay alert and make safety your first priority.
* "Expect the unexpected" by paying close attention to those around you.
* Watch your speed and obey all speed limits.
* Obey all work-zone signs.
* Drive courteously - merge early and don't tailgate.
* Minimize distractions by turning the radio down and not using mobile phones.
* Turn headlights on so others can see you.
* Use seatbealts and child safety seats - in Missouri it's the law.
* Be patient.
Information about major construction projects or Work Zone Awareness Week activities can be found at www.modot.org or by calling 1-888-275-6636.