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Speeding in work zones can be costly

Vehicles travel through the construction zone on Route 64 in St. Charles.
Vehicles travel through the construction zone on Route 64 in St. Charles.

Erik Mahan knows his officers can’t catch everyone driving too fast or unsafely through the mileslong maze of orange cones and barricades that is otherwise known as East Main Street.

But Mahan, commander with the St. Charles Police Department, said that isn’t necessarily the point.

“You ticket some, and you get the attention of others,” Mahan said. “And then people just drive more safely.”

For most, it is simply a cost of living on the western edge of one of the country’s largest metropolitan areas: The inconvenience of driving through the maze of detours, lane alterations, traffic flow pattern changes, inconvenient stops, traffic backups and dusty, uneven bumpy tracks brought about by the annual summer rite of road construction.

But in recent years, along with those traffic pattern and flow difficulties, motorists in Kane County and elsewhere have had an additional burden slapped on – reduced construction zone speed limits.

In most highway construction zones, those limits are typically set at 45 mph.

But in some areas, such as stretches of Route 64 through St. Charles, the limits can be set lower.

And the reduced limits could be no small matter, as signs regularly posted throughout construction zones inform all driving through. Violate those speed limits, and you could face a fine of at least $375.

In the past, the fines may have only applied when workers were present in the construction zones. But now, those fines apply at all hours, every day, for as long as the construction zone is in place and marked.

The reduced speeds were put in place to emphasize the state’s desire to protect road construction workers and those driving through the work zones.

And in recent years, data provided by the Illinois Department of Transportation shows the reduced limits and stepped-up enforcement of the limits in various places may have accomplished some of that goal.

Last year, the state suffered just 4,764 crashes in work zones, a decrease of 43 percent from 2006. And of those crashes, 19 resulted in fatalities, down from 31 work-zone crash fatalities as recently as 2009.

Locally, police agencies said they have placed a greater emphasis on policing traffic through construction zones in recent years.

In St. Charles, for instance, police have maintained a regular presence through the large construction zone on East Main Street since work began in 2011, Mahan said, looking for those driving unsafely, driving too fast or using an electronic device while driving in the work zone.

However, that emphasis has not necessarily resulted in a large number of people charged specifically for speeding in the construction zone or using a cellphone in the work zone.

According to St. Charles Police records, six drivers have been issued citations specifically for speeding in a construction zone so far this year.

That construction work is scheduled to end this fall.

This year’s ticket total for that charge compares to nine such tickets written in 2007, when work was wrapping up on a large construction zone on West Main Street at Randall Road.

However, from 2008 to 2012, St. Charles Police issued just one ticket for speeding in a construction zone.

In other local departments, such tickets were even more sparse.

Batavia has issued just three tickets for speeding in a construction zone from 2008 to 2013.

Geneva, after writing seven tickets for work zone speeding in 2007, has written a combined six such tickets in the years since 2008.

Illinois State Police, however, have been busy in the region this year, as road construction projects have snarled traffic through the region on Interstate 90 and U.S. 20, among other roads.

In District 2, which includes the counties of Kane, McHenry, DeKalb, Lake and DuPage, the state police said they had written 177 tickets for speeding in a construction zone so far this year.

That compares to 30 written in all of 2011 and 11 in 2012.

Numbers are harder to obtain on tickets issued for charges of using electronic devices while driving in a work zone, because local police records technicians said their records cannot differentiate between tickets issued for using cellphones while in a construction zone or in a school zone.

The state police said they have maintained a heavy enforcement of this law, writing 1,318 tickets on that charge so far this year in District 2. That puts them on pace to eclipse the 1,881 tickets written on that charge in 2011 in the region, but behind last year’s pace, when they wrote 2,343 tickets.

In Geneva, records reveal no such tickets issued since 2007.

In Batavia, officers have written eight such tickets so far this year, compared to seven in both 2012 and 2011, and 14 in 2010.

And in St. Charles, the city has written four tickets to motorists using electronic devices in a construction or school zone. That city wrote two such tickets in 2012, the first year it wrote tickets for that offense.

However, Mahan said the ticket numbers don’t tell the whole story.

He noted, for instance, that officers can choose to issue tickets for the more traditional charge of speeding, even if the violator commits the offense in a construction zone.

Also, officers in St. Charles have issued a relatively large number of warnings to motorists for driving while using a cellphone in a work or school zone, he said.

So far this year, city police have issued 163 warnings for that offense. Last year, police issued 42 such warnings, after writing 17 and 19 warnings, respectively, in 2011 and 2010.

Mahan said, often, just getting pulled over in a traffic stop – whether a ticket is issued – can work to enforce the speed limit in construction zones, reminding both the speeder and those around of the need to slow down.

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