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Work Zone Ahead: As construction seasons kicks into high gear, City of Portland urges travelers to use caution to save lives and prevent injuries to frontline workers

Press Release
Portland and cities across the nation have seen a rise in fatal traffic crashes that defy historic trends. The COVID-19 pandemic created unique challenges and appears to have created tragic results on streets and highways.
Published

(April 26, 2021) Portland and cities across the nation have seen a rise in fatal traffic crashes that defy historic trends. The COVID-19 pandemic created unique challenges and appears to have created tragic results on streets and highways, with 54 traffic deaths in Portland in 2020, the highest number in more than 20 years. Through the Vision Zero program, the City of Portland and our partners are working to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries on our streets.

The City of Portland’s crews are out on city streets every day of the year working to repair, improve and maintain Portland’s street, water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure. During the 2021 National Work Zone Awareness Week, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), the Portland Water Bureau and the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) remind people to keep their distance from crews at work and slow down when traveling through work zones.  

As the construction season kicks into high gear, crews will be out in neighborhoods across the city doing indispensable work such as filling potholes, renewing fire hydrants, installing new sewer pipes, restriping roads, fixing leaks, clearing catch basins, building curb ramps and sidewalks, grinding and paving roads, and more.

Night construction at the NW 23rd & Vaughn & U.S. Hwy. 30 intersection as part of the NW 20th Avenue LID in September 2019. Photo by PBOT.
Night construction at the NW 23rd & Vaughn & U.S. Hwy. 30 intersection as part of the NW 20th Avenue LID in September 2019. Photo by PBOT.

“Our crews have been on the front lines throughout the pandemic, conducting critical maintenance and repairs to our transportation network to keep Portland moving,” said Portland Transportation Director Chris Warner. “Just like they have looked out for us during this exceptionally challenging year, we must continue to look out for them. We need everyone’s help to keep our crews safe in work zones this summer: Slow down when you’re driving and encourage your family and friends to do the same.”

“Environmental Services continues to work throughout the city to upgrade critical sewer and stormwater infrastructure to prevent sewage releases and protect public health, property, and our environment. Much of that work is underground. Work zones around maintenance holes and trenches protect those workers you may not see. Please help keep yourself and them safe,” said Environmental Services Director Mike Jordan.

As people return to workplaces, shopping and schools, they will be traveling more and driving more. We need everyone to take care to follow speed limits, don't drive under the influence of alcohol or other drugs and look out for people biking and walking on our streets. Alcohol consumption, as well as rates of anxiety and depression are up nationwide, according to surveys and media reports.

“We want everyone to get home safely to the dinner table, the dog park, or their kid’s game. We appeal to the traveling public to look out for workers and slow down in work zones for your own safety and the safety of workers," said Water Bureau Director Gabriel Solmer.

Work zones play a crucial role in separating construction and maintenance activities from traffic. They provide a safe area for workers and a safe route for all road users (people walking, bicycling, rolling, driving, and during this pandemic, customers of businesses who have street side seating). However, work zones also frequently involve changes in traffic patterns and rights of way. Those changes, combined with the presence of workers, and the frequent movement of work vehicles, may lead to crashes, injuries, and fatalities.

When people drive more, we see more traffic crashes, including crashes that cause death and life-altering injuries. PBOT's Vision Zero Dashboard shows the relationship between the pandemic and traffic crashes in Portland. The number of crashes that Portland Fire & Rescue responded to each week dropped during COVID-19 stay home orders in 2020, but surged to rates higher than average for the previous six years when the orders were lifted.

Blue sky background with orange construction sign that reads "Work Zone Ahead"

To further protect yourself and city workers from death and injury, the bureaus ask Portlanders to follow these safety steps: 

  • Keep your distance. For the health and safety for everyone, please give our crews the space to complete their work while maintaining proper distance. We understand that as people are spending time at home, they are curious about what we’re doing in their neighborhoods. We have a few videos about the indispensable work that continues through the pandemic. City bureaus also send mailers or door hangers to homes and businesses in an area before major work.
  • SLOW DOWN.  Speed is a major factor in crashes. If you must drive, follow the construction zone speed limit. Slow down, don’t tailgate. Speed was a contributing factor in more than 31 percent of 2019 fatal work zone crashes nationwide, increasing from 26 percent the year prior.
  • Use an alternate route. When you can, avoid streets with posted work zones. 
  • Obey all speed and warning signs. Work zone signs apply to everyone traveling through – whether the person is walking, biking, rolling or driving. They are there for your safety and will help prevent a collision.
  • Be alert and look out for all road users. Put down your phone and pay attention to the road conditions ahead of you. In 2019, 140 pedestrians and bicyclists lost their lives in work zone crashes nationwide. Distracted driving, which includes using your phone, is  illegal. Learn more here: https://www.oregon.gov/odot/saf…
  • Carefully move over. When possible, give workers more room between them and your vehicle, but do not veer into an oncoming traffic lane. 
  • Keep your distance. Work zone activity often leads to congestion, delays, and traffic queues. Rear-end crashes are extremely common in work zones – maintain extra space between you and the person in front of you at all times and be alert and watch for sudden stops. In 2019, nearly one quarter of all fatal work zone crashes nationwide involved rear-end collisions
  • Stay clear of construction vehicles. Heavy vehicles travel in and out of the work areas and can make sudden moves. We know it’s interesting to see our machines at work, but please keep a safe distance from the work zone if you plan to watch. 
  • Expect delays and be kind. Our goal is to get you through our work zone safely, while also completing our street improvements in an efficient manner. We appreciate your understanding. 

Find out about Environmental Services’ sewer and stormwater repair projects in your area and sign up for updates at https://www.portland.gov/bes/improvements/find-sewer-and-stormwater-construction-projects.

City crews have been in modified operations since March 17, 2020 and have implemented specific measures to ensure the safety of our crews and contractors. We're focused on delivering critical repairs and maintenance while taking specific steps to keep our workforce safe.

Transportation crews, for instance, have modified shifts, implemented physical distancing, and other precautions based on current guidelines from local, state, and federal health officials. 

For more information about the City of Portland’s response to COVID-19, see the City’s Novel Coronavirus COVID-19 website. Multnomah County is the City’s primary resource for public health information. Get public health information and guidance, resources, and updates regarding COVID-19 from the County’s website.

Learn more about vaccines from the Oregon Health Authority's Get Vaccinated Oregon website.


About National Work Zone Awareness Week 

National Work Zone Awareness Week runs from April 26-30, 2021. Work zones play a key role in maintaining and upgrading Portland's roadways, water and sewer infrastructure and more. Unfortunately, daily changes in traffic patterns, narrowed rights-of-way, and other construction activities often create a combination of factors resulting in crashes, injuries, and even fatalities. These crashes also cause excessive delays, especially given the constrained driving environment. Recent statistics from the National Highway Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) show there were a total of 158,000 work zone crashes total in 2016 across the United States—of which 42,000 were injury-involved crashes that resulted in 61,000 injuries. On average, in 2015: A work zone crash occurred once every 5.4 minutes. 

About PBOT 

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) is the steward of the City’s transportation system, and a community partner in shaping a livable city. We plan, build, manage and maintain an effective and safe transportation system that provides access and mobility. Learn more on Twitter @PBOTinfo and portland.gov/transportation.

About the Portland Water Bureau 

The Portland Water Bureau serves water to almost a million people in the Portland area. Portland’s water system includes two great water sources, 53 tanks and reservoirs, and 2,200 miles of pipes. With 600 employees working on everything from water treatment to customer service, the Water Bureau is committed to serving excellent water every minute of every day. Learn more on Twitter @PortlandWater and portlandoregon.gov/water.

About the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services  

The City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services - your sewer and stormwater utility - provides Portland residents with programs to protect water quality and public health, including wastewater collection and treatment, sewer construction and maintenance, stormwater management, and stream and watershed restoration. Follow on Twitter - @BESPortland and portlandoregon.gov/environmental services.