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Work-zone video meets legislative resistance

Paul Snyder
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The Wisconsin County Highways Association wants a video eye on motorists driving through road construction zones, but the group first needs to bypass skepticism in the Legislature.

“There are a lot of generic concerns about enforcing laws as a result of what happens on TV,” said state Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, D-Manitowoc, and vice chairman of the Assembly Committee on Public Safety.

But the county group is now riding a wave of concern over work-zone safety following the death last week of a Dane County highway worker who was struck by a vehicle, and now is the time to advocate new laws to protect roadworkers, said Daniel Fedderly, the WCHA’s executive director.

“We believe that if the traveling public is aware they’re being videotaped,” he said, “you’ll see more adherence to laws.”

Video monitoring, Fedderly said, would make sure drivers are following work-zone speed limits and paying attention to the state’s move-over law, which requires drivers change lanes to maintain a safe distance from workers, police and other officials who stop on or work on roads.

Police argue the move-over law is difficult to enforce because a patrol officer who spots a work-zone violation likely has already stopped to issue a different citation. But a day after the Dane County worker’s death last week, the Dane County Sheriff’s Department monitored a construction zone for five hours and issued 29 citations related to speed and move-over law violations.

Unfortunately, police cannot monitor all highway work at all times, and Fedderly said that is why video could help. Yet he said the WCHA has no statistics showing video recording improves work-zone safety.

If the WCHA cannot find a lawmaker to help with the bill, the idea could be delayed until the next legislative session.

“Our preference for something to happen is short-term,” Fedderly said. “But if this has to happen over the long term, then that’s what we’ll do.”

Although video recording could help, it will not remove the dangers highway workers face, said Arlyn Halvorson, a highway worker and president of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees Local 65.

“There’s always an inherent danger out there,” he said. “Unless you’re putting up cement barriers around job sites, you can do your best with more signage and traffic control, but there are still risks.”

Halverson said the state could improve work-zone safety, but enforcement always will be a challenge. The best answers, he said, deal with proper traffic control around sites to avoid close calls with workers.

“Cars are like cattle,” he said. “You have to put them on a path.”

Although Fedderly argued drivers could be more attentive if they knew they were under video surveillance, he said a measure that would give police officers video-recording discretion for more general purposes was already stricken from the state budget proposal.

Ziegelbauer said lawmakers take work-zone safety and worker fatalities very seriously but are wary of proposals lacking supporting statistics.

“If it was that easy to make it a law,” he said, “it would’ve happened already.”

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