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Are Nebraska's road construction crews safe in low visibility conditions?

How NDOT balances efficiency, worker safety in bad weather
Construction
Posted at 7:15 PM, Apr 21, 2022

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Roadwork of any kind can be inconvenient as a commuter, and can result in delays, detours and doubled fines in reduced speed zones. But whether crews are resurfacing roads or making repairs, it can be dangerous to work so close to motorists who zip on by.

When you factor in bad weather, the risks can escalate, especially in low visibility conditions where motorists may not see the signs or lights indicating road crews are nearby.

If you were out and about for your commute early Thursday morning on April 21, you know how bad the fog was.

3 News Now mentioned the upcoming dense fog in during the latenight newscast the previous night. Data from the Millard and Eppley Airports show visibility was consistently extremely low overnight: the Millard Airport do not have any readings show visibility higher than a quarter-mile around midnight until nearly 9 a.m.

Visibility reached as low as fifteen-hundredths of a mile at some points. It takes a car traveling 60 miles per hour 9 seconds to cover that amount of ground.

A 3 News Now journalist coming into an early morning shift drove along construction work, heading south on I-680 at about 3:45 a.m. Thursday. The reporter never was able to see signs to move over, but knew to expect the construction.

But the journalist did see workers in two left lanes that were closed.

"What people should know is that the safe travel of our folks on the roadways and the safety of the people working those construction zones is always number one priority for the (Nebraska) Department of Transportation," spokesperson Jeni Campana told 3 News Now.

She said work began Wednesday night as "fog was not anticipated to be a factor."

But a decision to wrap up work was made in the early morning hours. The decision was a joint one between an NDOT project manager and the contractor on site.

She said what 3 News Now saw "was the wrap-up work after the fog had come in to allow the lanes to be open safely in the morning."

"During the construction process, the weather can instigate many situations beyond our control," Campana wrote. "The Project Manager, inspector, and contractors watch the weather forecasts closely and make decisions based on the information that is available at that time. Sometimes the weather situation can change without warning."

Here's the full statement provided by Campana, the spokesperson for NDOT. We asked to clarify some points after a Zoom interview.

"NDOT began work last night as fog was not anticipated to be a factor in their timeline for construction. When the fog began to roll in low lying areas in the early morning hours, the project manager and the contractor made a joint decision to end work for the evening.

As they do every night, the project manager was continually patrolling the work zone. There was some isolated fog, but the majority of the work zone was visible with lights clearly seen. Once the joint decision to end the project last night was made, work commenced to safely open lanes to traffic.

Since of portions of the bridge deck had been removed during the overnight hours, those sections needed to be replaced or the lanes would’ve remained closed for the early morning rush, creating unanticipated congestion for morning commuters. What was observed last night was the wrap-up work after the fog had come in to allow the lanes to be open safely in the morning.

During the construction process, the weather can instigate many situations beyond our control. The Project Manager, inspector, and contractors watch the weather forecasts closely and make decisions based on the information that is available at that time. Sometimes the weather situation can change without warning.

As indicated earlier, the safety of our workers and the traveling public are always foremost for the Nebraska Department of Transportation."

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