DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa officials say a surge in construction projects and an increase in miles driven by motorists have led to a high number of people dying in road construction work zone crashes this year.
Ten people have died in work zone crashes this year, compared to 13 deaths last year, the Des Moines Register reported.
“Ten deaths in work zones is way too many, and it is a terrible number,” said Steve Gent, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation's traffic and safety office in Ames. “This is one of the areas that we continue to work on, not only on the primary highway system, but on county and city road systems.”
Department officials say speeding and distracted driving, such as texting behind the wheel, are contributing factors. The Legislature recently passed a state law prohibiting texting while driving. As of Oct. 31, officers had issued almost 500 citations for texting while driving, compared to 174 citations in 2016.
Transportation department officials are also increasing safety measures in an effort to combat work zone crashes. Efforts include having extra enforcement by state troopers and department officers, using electronic speed sensors, traffic sensors, and electronic message boards to warn motorists of problems ahead.
That the overall number of traffic fatalities across the state is declining overall, state officials said. So far there have been 295 traffic fatalities this year, which is 55 fewer than the same time last year.
There were also fewer people killed in motorcycle crashes and a small decrease in alcohol-related fatalities, said Patrick Hoye, chief of the Iowa Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau.
The transportation department will spend $680 million on construction projects this year, compared to $695 million spent on road projects last year.