Motorists need to slow down to protect road crews, save lives, officials say

Diane Sieker photo

Motorists who punch their accelerators because there are fewer vehicles on freeways amid the coronavirus emergency should remember they’re putting lives at risk in construction zones in Riverside County, and they will face consequences, officials said Friday, May 15.

“We will continue enforcement action for anyone driving in an unsafe manner,” California Highway Patrol Capt. Mike Alvarez said. “Special attention is being paid to roadway construction zones Those will be heavily enforced.”

Alvarez, who heads the CHP’s San Gorgonio office in Beaumont, said his officers have issued 44 speeding citations to drivers going in excess of 100 mph since March 19.

He noted that over the same period statewide, CHP patrol zones as a whole recorded an 87% jump in tickets for speeding 100 mph or more.

In the San Gorgonio area, 133 driving under the influence arrests have been made since March 19, when Gov. Gavin Newsom issued his “stay-at-home” executive order as part of a slate of coronavirus-related regulations.

Alvarez said a worrying sign is that the average blood alcohol level of arrestees is 0.16, compared to 0.14 during the same period in 2019. The legal limit threshold beyond which a DUI can be charged is 0.08.

“We need to ensure motorists’ safety and construction workers’ safety,” the CHP commander said.

Caltrans District 8 Director Mike Beauchamp addressed the same topic,saying excessive speed and unsafe driving have sharply increased since the governor’s mandate took many drivers off the road, with agency statistics showing as much as a 35% drop in traffic volumes statewide.

“If you travel, please do not speed,” Beauchamp said. “Slow down.It’s not worth a ticket or a life.”

Beauchamp, Alvarez and Wildomar City Councilmember Ben Benoit, who is vice chair of the Riverside County Transportation Commission, were part of the same virtual news briefing hosted by Caltrans.

“Riverside County is an important part of the national economy,” Benoit said. “We need drivers to slow down and keep crews safe to keep our economy going in the county.”

Benoit said the Interstate 15 Express Lanes Project, involving the addition of two toll lanes on the north- and southbound sides of I-15 from Route 60, the Pomona Freeway, in Jurupa Valley to the north side of Lake Elsinore, had been impacted by speeders, one of whom narrowly missed plowing into a road crew last month in Norco.

“We added a CHP officer in the construction zone, and that has made a difference,” Benoit said. “Over 20 drivers have received citations.”

He said road crews are also at risk in construction zones for the Route 60 Truck Lanes Project between Beaumont and Moreno Valley, as well as the Interstate 10 Tuneup between the Coachella Valley and Banning Pass. This summer, the Railroad Canyon Interchange Project in Lake Elsinore will be an additional concern.

The officials emphasized that penalties double for motorists caught speeding through construction zones.

Caltrans has activated overhead message signs warning motorists to reduce their speeds, and the men said paying heed to the signs could save not only money, but prevent injuries or deaths.