Troopers nab speeders incognito

News Daily Herald August 19, 2005
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State Troopers in Illinois are taking a different approach to nab speeders, in an effort known as Operation Hardhat. Within minutes, Troopers are able to transform themselves from police officer to construction worker in order to catch tollway speeders more easily.

The crackdown targets drivers who disregard the 45 mph speed limit in construction zones, reports the Daily Herald. The effort, which spans the entire tollway system, focuses on keeping construction workers and motorists safe.

According to the newspaper, State Trooper Pawel Sarat crouched behind a construction truck and clocked vehicles for four hours on the Reagan Memorial Tollway in Naperville, where crews are widening the road. When speeders were spotted, he radioed ahead to squads staked out on the entrance ramp.

Sarat was incognito wearing jeans, a hardhat and a reflective vest. According to officers, the disguise makes the police presence inconspicuous, allowing the detail to last longer.

State Trooper Dan Orseno recently ticketed seven motorists, including one rocketing down the road at more than double the posted limit, reported the Daily Herald. Another speed-violator insisted he wasn’t traveling 73 mph, arguing he was only keeping up with the flow of traffic.

For Walsh Construction, one of the companies working on the tollway project, Operation Hardhat is a welcomed sight. According to the Daily Herald, Dale Swanberg, who oversees the company’s road and bridge construction nationwide, said the crackdown is a start, but there’s still much to be done in educating motorists about the dangers of driving too fast in construction zones.

“I think the average motorist is more worried about getting from point A to point B,” said Swanberg. Most motorists will travel as fast as traffic allows.

Part of the problem is construction itself, Swanberg also stated. “It becomes an attractive nuisance,” he said, noting that drivers are often too focused on what crews are doing that they veer off course and into the work zone.

According to the Daily Herald, the most important lesson Walsh Construction tries to get across to workers and motorists is to be aware of your surroundings.

In June, a construction worker was seriously injured on the Reagan Tollway after a motorist drove through barricades, entered a closed-off center lane and struck the man, reports the newspaper. In the past 30 months, six people died during vehicular accidents on Walsh work sites, Swanberg said.

“That’s too high. One is too high,” he said. “As a company, we feel we have a moral obligation to send our employees home to their families at night.”

To discourage inattentive driving, the state has imposed a minimum fine of $375 and a mandatory court appearance for work-zone speeding, reports the Daily Herald.

“I think it gets the message out,” Orseno said. “It might keep them guessing where we are and when we’re there. Even if they just slow down for a couple miles, that’s better than nothing.”

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