Highway crews deserve better protection
Typical of Pennsylvania state lawmakers’ lack of urgency on many — if not most — issues, both houses of the Legislature scurried from the state Capitol for their summer recess without completing work on important legislation that should have been passed and signed into law this spring, rather than in the fall or later.
By the time lawmakers return to Harrisburg in September, a big chunk of the highway construction season will have come and gone without the potential protection for highway workers that the proposed measure could have provided.
The measure is Senate Bill 172, whose main goal is to authorize speed cameras in active work zones, initially under a five-year pilot program.
The bill isn’t some new concept. Neighboring Maryland is one of the states already using cameras to slow traffic in those areas, thus providing an additional source of protection — beyond signs and temporary barriers — for the workers involved in pavement repairs, resurfacing, guardrail replacement and other projects.
Knowing that their license plate numbers are being captured by cameras is oftentimes more of a deterrent to drivers’ work-zone speeding than signs instructing them to slow down.
But another road-construction-and-repair season is rapidly passing without Pennsylvania getting into the proverbial fast lane on highway worker protection. Most lawmakers presumably are enjoying their summer recess with little thought about the nagging statistics that have been recorded regarding work-zone accidents in recent years.
According to the state Department of Transportation, there were 2,075 work-zone crashes in 2016 and 1,935 in 2015, apparently the two most recent years for which statistics have been finalized. Sixteen deaths stemmed from the 2016 crashes and 23 from those in 2015.
Most of those accidents and deaths could have been prevented with beefed-up enforcement tools, such as the one that lawmakers have been so slow in putting into operation.
As an article in last Monday’s Mirror noted, lawmakers have spent valuable time pondering how much revenue from fines might be forthcoming and to what uses that money could be directed, rather than focusing their full attention on surmounting whatever roadblocks there might be to getting “172” to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk for his signature.
Again, the proposed measure isn’t one that no other state has implemented. Pennsylvania has been able to obtain much valuable information on other states’ experiences as a means for expediting passage here, but whether enough of such information and guidance have been sought is open to question.
Meanwhile, as is so common in Harrisburg on so many issues, the Legislature has found ways to muddy what should have been — and still should be — a relatively easy exercise.
As last Monday’s Mirror article reported, quick passage by both legislative houses became bogged down by a proposed pilot program in Philadelphia that would be tied to the Senate bill. However, one of the most outlandish issues that has surfaced is some lawmakers’ reluctance to approve the bill because of its potential impact on constituents’ wallets and pocketbooks.
Beyond the cost of the cameras, which would be recouped over time, there would in fact be no financial impact on constituents — as long as they obeyed work-zone speed limits.
Highway workers’ safety is more important than a speeder’s opinion about a fine that he or she deserves.
Senate Bill 172 has languished too long, and lawmakers shouldn’t delay finishing work on it once the Legislature returns to session.