State hopes to slow speeding in work zones

Department of Transportation proposes speed cameras for some construction areas amid workers’ safety concerns

By Daniel J. Chacón dchacon@sfnewmexican.com

Traffic cones may not be the only thing motorists encounter when they drive through New Mexico’s construction zones.

The state Department of Transportation is working on a proposal to roll out automated speed enforcement cameras along certain roadways where construction work is happening as part of a public safety effort that is also certain to generate big money.

Drivers are simply ignoring posted speed limits in construction zones, putting the safety and lives of workers — as well as themselves and other motorists — in jeopardy, Transportation Secretary Ricky Serna said Monday.

“We’re not going to wait to start losing lives over this,” he said. “We’re going to take this preemptive measure.”

Serna said the department is developing a proposal to present to the state Transportation Commission, which sets department policy, for approval as early as January.

“Shortly thereafter, we hit the ground running with placement of cameras,” he said.

The department is working to identify an automated traffic enforcement contractor, select the type of construction zones where the cameras would be placed and establish the process for issuing civil citations. No amount for civil fines has been set.

“If we were to issue criminal cita

tions for speeding, then we have these avenues where drivers could really challenge an officer to appear in court every single time and that becomes very taxing,” Serna said.

Public safety is the driving force, he said.

The Associated Contractors of New Mexico, whose members are doing much of the road construction work across the state, has raised concerns about motorists’ “disregard” for posted speed limits in construction zones, Serna said.

“We’ve worked with [the Department of Public Safety] and in some instances, local law enforcement like the Santa Fe County Sheriff ’s Office, to really create a presence that would deter drivers from speeding in these work zones,” he said. “But they’ve got a lot of things going on and certainly, posting [police officers or sheriff ’s deputies] at construction zones all day long is really a difficult task, and it’s even an unreasonable one, really.”

The department’s research showed automated traffic enforcement is an effective tool to reduce speeding, he said.

Jim Garcia, executive director of the Associated Contractors of New Mexico, said speeding in construction zones has gotten “out of control.”

“If we don’t do something on the front end of it, we’re going to pay the price with deaths from workers and maintenance contractors on the opposite side of this,” he said.

Garcia said New Mexicans know speeding is a problem.

“You know what I’m talking about,” he said. “You go through a drive zone, and it says 55 miles per hour. I go through there at 55 miles per hour, and people are passing me at twice the speed. Nobody can confuse what I’m saying with reality.”

Garcia said New Mexico’s overall traffic fatality rate is among the highest in the nation, and two road construction workers have been killed in the state in the last six months.

“Both of the incidents, there was no braking at all, and the last one that happened literally cut the gentleman in half because he was standing behind his tailgate,” he said. “If you were to see those pictures, you would change the way you think about all of this — I can promise you.”

The idea of speed cameras in construction zones emerged during a legislative hearing last week when Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, commented about the safety of people working along New Mexico’s roadways.

“It’s always imminent that we we work hand-in-hand, and I know that you do,” Campos told Public Safety Secretary Jason Bowie. “We really want to take care of people working on construction projects.”

Bowie told the committee his department has been working “very closely” with Serna and mentioned they were in the early discussions of automated traffic enforcement.

“We’ve been increasing our traffic enforcement, particularly on La Bajada Hill,” he said, referring to the big slope on Interstate 25 southwest of Santa Fe. “Just over the last couple of weeks, 534 citations [have been issued,] 489 of those for speeding just by the Mexico State Police.”

Serna described driving on La Bajada as a “call to action.” He drives the posted speed limit in the fast lane through the construction zone to prevent speeding.

“It’s an unpopular thing to do, but I’d rather take some ugly gestures and horn honking [to get] traffic down that road slowly,” he said.

Serna said he believes the focus of speed cameras should be on roadways where the normal speed limit is over 55 mph, like interstates and major corridors, but no decision has been made.

Serna said his department doesn’t have revenue estimates but is committed to investing revenues back into roadway safety.

“There are some areas that we’re not able to fund right now, things like road rage [education], for example, and we want to ramp up on anti-litter campaigns, too,” he said. “What we do generate we do want to reinvest in ensuring that drivers are mindful that we have a big responsibility when we’re out on the roads, whether it be keeping things clean or keeping each other safe.”






Santa Fe New Mexican