It’s something most people who drive on Alberta highways in the summer have experienced: cruising along until seeing a sign indicating a reduction in the speed limit for a construction zone. But then, after slowly meandering through the construction zone, the realization sets in that no crews are out working.
On Tuesday, Alberta’s transportation minister announced he is enacting the Traffic Accommodation in Work Zones regulation to improve traffic flow through construction zones on provincial highways while still ensuring they are still safe for workers.
“More and more people have talked to me about being frustrated on the highway when the speed limit is reduced in an area for seemingly no reason and there are instances where they might get a ticket, double fine and demerits, even though the stretch of road they were on had no construction taking place at all, no workers on site, and nothing to suggest a lower speed limit was necessary,” Brian Mason told reporters.
Mason added that in these cases, traffic can often become congested or frustrated drivers begin using dangerous tactics like tailgating while following people obeying the reduced speed limits.
“We need to take driver psychology into account when we make our rules.”
When the construction season begins in spring, contractors will now be required to cover speed-reduction signage in a construction zone where no workers are present and if there are no safety concerns.
Among the changes the new rules call for are more consistent use of road construction signage, limiting the distance of lane closures in construction zones — in most cases — to no more than three kilometres, more gradual speed reductions through construction zones, longer distances for speed transition zones that come before construction zones and more frequent use of electronic speed displays and rumble strips to slow traffic at actual construction sites.
Mason emphasized to reporters, however, that the new rules are in no way meant to compromise the safety of people who work on Alberta’s provincial highways.
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“We all need to focus on making sure that when we’re driving on Alberta highways, we’re also keeping an eye out for people who are working and make sure we do everything possible to protect them,” he said.
“And that is… critically important, because ensuring that the safety of the people working on our highways, whether they’re a tow-truck operator or construction people, is of paramount importance, and I don’t ever want to lose sight of that very important factor.”
Mason said his government engaged in consultations with a number of stakeholders, including the Alberta Construction Safety Association, Consulting Engineers of Alberta, the Alberta Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.