York County construction-zone workers want higher penalties for offending drivers
David Reburn, who spends his days as a construction zone flagger working on heavily traveled Mount Rose Avenue in Spring Garden Township, had a close call in an active work zone earlier this year.
"I had to stop traffic real quickly because an ambulance had to get through (the work zone). A guy hit my (work) bag. He almost hit me," said 41-year-old Reburn of the driver who failed to stop when signaled.
But as Reburn and others across York County take to the city streets and rural roads for construction jobs, new state legislation aims to increase penalties and add speed cameras to protect them.
Safety: A bill from Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny County, and Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington County, calls for a six-month license suspension and increasing fines and penalties from $1,000 to $5,000 for serious offenses involving highway workers or first responders.
Under current law, fines are doubled in an active work zone and licenses are suspended for 15 days, according to Greg Penny, PennDOT spokesman.
Legislation introduced by Sens. Judy Schwank, D-Berks County, and David Argall, R-Schuylkill County, would add speed cameras in active work zones.
Close calls: Like Reburn, Ellwood Roberson said he has had many brushes with impatient drivers.
"My mind is always on my job; my job is to go home," said Roberson, 60, a flagger for Labor Ready, also working on Mount Rose Avenue. "I've had at least five (close calls)."
William Jones, 55, a Jan's Flagging employee working on Hollywood Drive in Spring Garden Township, said he's never had a close call, but he knows flaggers who have been hurt and had to miss work because of distracted drivers.
Some flaggers said, in an effort to keep themselves safer, they stop cars within a comfortable distance.
"I keep cars 10 to 15 feet away," Roberson said, explaining a chain-reaction crash from stopped cars being rear-ended — by distracted drivers or those driving too fast — could put him in danger if the car closest to him is involved.
Workers' thoughts: The flaggers said stronger law enforcement is needed to keep them and their co-workers safe.
Drivers are often too distracted by their cellphones or something else they are dealing with in their vehicles to pay attention to what — or who — is in front of them, Roberson said.
Flaggers are seen as an annoyance to drivers, who seem to retaliate for being delayed, they said.
Jones said by law flaggers cannot hold up traffic longer than 15 minutes. However, drivers don't typically wait much more than a minute or so, Jones said.
Within that minute, he has had people curse at him, shoot him the middle finger and get out of their cars, he said. Some have tried to speed past or ignore the stop sign and drive around him. That's just part of the job, Jones said.
According to PennDOT data, 85 construction workers have been killed while on the job since 1970.
So far this year, six PennDOT employees have been injured, said spokeswoman Ashley Scoch.
Senate Bill 840, which addresses the automated speed enforcement cameras, is sitting in the Senate Transportation Committee, awaiting a vote. Senate Bill 887, calling for an increase in fines and penalties, passed from committee and awaits a vote before the full Senate.
— Reach Brianna Shea at firstname.lastname@example.org.