Saving 20 seconds isn't worth risking serious injury to yourself or others.

That was the message Friday from the Utah Department of Transportation and the Utah Highway Patrol as they jointly issued a reminder to motorists traveling the I-80 construction zone on the east side to slow down.

"Safety is our number one priority," said UDOT deputy director Carlos Braceras.

A recent study by the UHP of motorists in the construction area from approximately State Street to 1300 East showed the average speed in the 55 mph zone was still 65 mph, said UHP Col. Lance Davenport.

It takes 10 seconds longer to drive a mile at 55 mph than it does at 65 mph, Braceras said. Getting through the entire work zone on I-80 will take about 20 seconds longer under the current speed limit than it used to, he said.

"Really, what does that mean?" Braceras asked of the extra time. "If you find you would be 20 seconds late for work, would you call your boss and say you'd be 20 seconds late?"

To illustrate his point, Braceras used a large stopwatch to tick off 20 seconds as he addressed the media.

In 2007, nine people were killed in accidents in freeway construction zones in Utah, according to UDOT.

So far in 2008, the crash rate along that stretch of I-80 has been nearly double the normal average, Davenport said. He did not have exact numbers Friday of how many crashes that actually represented.

All of the accidents through Friday involved minor or no injures, he said. No construction worker had been injured through Friday.

Braceras believes the safety precautions taken by UDOT have helped prevent serious injuries.

Although the narrow roads and rough pavement provide less room for error for drivers, techniques such as moving the center cement barrier each morning and afternoon, depending on the flow of the commute, have greatly increased safety, he said.

But there are also fears that those safety precautions have given drivers a false sense of security.

Motorists will "blow" into the construction zone and rear-end a vehicle that has slowed down, Davenport said. That and cars being sideswiped by trailers or large commercial vehicles have been some of the leading causes of accidents, he said.

The UHP has conducted 15 overtime patrol shifts on I-80 over the past few weeks with the goal of looking for speeders through the construction zone. Each shift was four hours long.

Through Friday, troopers had issued 79 speeding citations in that area of 10 mph over or more, and two citations for reckless driving. Davenport said similar saturation efforts would continue throughout the duration of the project.

Braceras said if drivers can be patient until fall, conditions will start to dramatically improve. By the fall, all westbound lanes on I-80 will be completed. All traffic will use that side of the road while crews work to complete the eastbound lanes.

Once the entire project is completed in late 2009, there will be five lanes of travel, including HOV lanes, in each direction.


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