PORTLAND — When Brodie Harvey works onsite at a highway project, he often thinks of his former Knife River colleague, Ron Davis, who was struck by a truck while working on northbound Interstate 5 north of Aurora nearly a year ago.
Davis eventually died from his injuries.
Harvey, a project manager with the national highway construction contracting company, said he even questioned whether he wanted to continue in his chosen profession.
“It was a very sad, tragic event,” said Harvey, an Albany resident. “It made me question whether I really wanted to be out there on the highways and interstates working, with how dangerous it can be.”
While construction workers struck down in work zones make headlines, motorists approaching work zones are much more likely to be injured than workers, said Matt Garrett, director of the Oregon Department of Transportation.
He offered a staggering statistic: Someone is injured an average of every 17 hours in a road construction work zone in Oregon, a state with a population of 4.1 million.
Analysis of state crash data from 2012 to 2016 shows that an average of five people die each year in work zones, while about 437 people are injured. The majority of the injuries were among motorists, Garrett said. More than 500 crashes occur each year in work zones.
Garrett held a news conference Thursday at an Interstate 5 paving and auxiliary lane project in Tualatin, where, he said, five people already have been injured in that work zone since February.
Milwaukie resident Justin Brandon, a Department of Transportation coordinator for the project manager’s office, said he has seen some of the damaged vehicles after the recent crashes.
“A lot of our work takes place at night, and that’s when the accidents have mainly been happening,” Brandon said. “That’s one of the biggest issues we have working at night: It’s dark. People are driving. They want to get home, and it’s extremely dangerous.”
Speed reduction signs are posted in the work zone, but motorists sometimes fail to see the signs or choose not to follow them.
“Some drivers are distracted. Sometimes, they’re drunk. A lot of times, they’re tired,” Brandon said. “All of these things add up, and it’s extremely dangerous out there, working feet away from vehicles moving 65 miles an hour, 70 miles an hour.”
The Tualatin project involves adding a southbound auxiliary lane on I-5 from north of Lower Boones Ferry Road to Interstate 205 and on- and off-ramp lane improvements at Lower Boones Ferry and Nyberg Street and on the ramp to I-205. Work also entails repaving I-5 from state Highway 99 West to I-205 for about 5.5 miles, upgrading signage, lighting and striping; and building retaining walls.
Construction hours are day and night, with nighttime lane closures on I-5 beginning as early as 8 p.m. and intermittent closures on ramp lanes at night and on some weekends.
Motorists should abide by speed reduction signs and pay attention, especially at night, Brandon said.
“When you see orange, slow down,” he said. “It’s not going to save you any time to go flying through a work zone, and if it’s going to save one person’s life, that mom or dad or son or daughter gets to go home at night because you slowed down a couple miles per hour. You need to do it, please.”