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When is it a construction zone?

This question was received via email: “I have driven in Michigan for 35 years and understand that the speed limit in construction zones typically is 45 MPH when workers are present. However, does that still apply when workers are on the other side of a concrete barrier wall? Or how about when they are working on the other side of a divided highway?”

Under MCL 257.79(d), a work zone for construction is described as “a portion of a street or highway that meets any of the following: (a) Is between a “work zone begins” sign and an “end road work” sign.; (b) For construction, maintenance, or utility work activities conducted by a work crew and more than 1 moving vehicle, …; or (c) For construction, maintenance, surveying, or utility work activities conducted by a work crew and 1 moving or stationary vehicle exhibiting a rotating beacon or strobe light,…”

Through consulting other members of the Michigan State Police, I learned there is no specific statute that applies to the “when workers present” signs. The way the “workers present” is enforced is through the signs placed to create the construction zones. Michigan State Police and the Michigan Department of Transportation adopted the Michigan Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MMUTCD) per MCL 257.608. The signs used to mark the work zones will read “Work Zone Begins” and “End Road Work” or “Begin Work Convoy” and “End Work Convoy.”

The convoy signs are used for mobile crews traveling along roads as workers paint lane lines or patch potholes. Speed limit signs are also required at the beginning of work zones and are typically located near the “Work Zone Begins” signs. This speed limit applies to the entire “work zone” unless the workers are not present.

For workers to be “present,” the workers must be working near the open lane of travel, and only protected by cones or barrels. If the workers are behind a concrete barrier or guardrail, or on the other side of the median, they are not present.

Under Public Act 103 — also known as Andy’s Law — that took effect in 2001, it discusses the penalties for injuring a construction or maintenance worker within a “work zone.” The law creates penalties of up to one year in prison for injuring and up to 15 years in prison for killing a highway construction or maintenance worker. It also imposes a maximum penalty of $7,500.

In 2003, Andy’s Law was strengthened by the passage of Public Act 315. Public Act 315 lowers the threshold at which driving offenses can trigger Andy’s Law penalties. The law now includes penalties for driving offenses such as careless driving or speeding, which are considered civil infractions. The law also applies to criminal offenses such as reckless or drunk driving. In 2008, Public Acts 296 and 297 impose fines of up to $7,500 and 15 years in jail for motorists who injure or kill anyone in a road construction work zone, not just a road worker.

Overall, if there is a concrete barrier, the workers are not considered to be “present” and the 45-mph speed limit would not apply.

However, if the “work zone” signs are in place, motorists would need to follow the posted speed for that work zone. As for the question about when workers are working on the other side of a divided highway, if the “work zone” signs are present in your lane of travel, the statue would apply and could be enforced with the penalties of Andy’s Law.

If the workers are separated from your lane of travel by a median and no “work zone” signs are present, the normal posted speed limit would apply.

Ashley Simpson is a Community Service Trooper for the Michigan State-Police Alpena Post. If you have a question for Trooper Simpson, you can email her at asktroopersimpson@gmail.com or mail them to Ask A Trooper, MSP-Alpena Post, 3283 W. Washington Ave., Alpena, Michigan, 49707.