Construction employment increased in 329 out of 358 metro areas between April and May as a new survey finds that two-thirds of highway construction firms had at least one crash in the past year at highway work zones they operate.
Ken Simonson, chief economist, noted that construction employment expanded in most parts of the country between April and May as coronavirus lockdowns began to ease, according to an analysis of federal employment data the association conducted. He noted that Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash. added the most construction jobs (28,600, 44 percent) in May, followed by New York City (25,000, 31 percent) and Pittsburgh, Pa. (22,000, 60 percent).
Many of those workers will be improving highways and bridges in work zones along busy highways this summer, the economist pointed out. According to that survey, two-thirds of the 200-plus respondents reported at least one crash in the past year involving a moving vehicle at highway work zones, and 33 percent reported five or more crashes.
Seventeen percent of work zone crashes resulted in injury to construction workers, according to the survey. Meanwhile, drivers and passengers were injured in 44 percent of those crashes. Drivers and passengers are more likely to be killed in work zone crashes as well.
The only good news coming out of the survey, Simonson observed, is that coronavirus-related reductions in driving appear to have improved work zone safety. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said changes in highway traffic levels since the coronavirus made work zones safer. But with traffic already back to 90 percent of pre-coronavirus levels by some estimates, those safety improvements are likely “fleeting,” the economist said.
Association officials called for new measures to protect motorists and workers at highway construction sites. They noted that 24 percent of survey respondents say a greater police presence at work zones will improve safety. Another 18 percent say stricter laws against cell phone usage and distracted driving would help. And 17 percent would like to see greater use of devices like Jersey barriers to protect workers.