Multiple crashes in construction zones has officials on high alert

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(ABC 6 News) – Construction season is nothing new in Minnesota but in the last week, these work zones have turned deadly for a number of drivers passing through the southern region of the state.

Since construction began only a month ago, several people have been killed and others are in the hospital after driving through the few-mile stretch of Interstate 35.

“A lot of people ignore the signage or don’t see it in general because they are not paying attention,” said Amanda Harper, a professional driver.

One of the trouble spots is where the interstate merges into one lane.

Friday, two people were killed after crashing into a semi-truck.

“It did surprise me when I saw it because of how bad it was,” said Harper. “It was pretty bad.”

Just one week earlier in the same spot, another crash led to a six-car pile-up. Several people are still in the hospital with life-threatening injuries.

“We want to find out why and what happened and what sort of things we are able to correct if that is possible,” said Mike Dougherty, the communications director with the Minnesota Dept. of Transportation.

Just an hour south on Interstate 90, another driver was killed near a construction zone.

This time, after he crashed into a school bus carrying more than 30 Waseca Public School volleyball players.

“We are heartbroken at the loss of life, the gentleman that lost his life, the other driver, our thoughts are with his family and we are just so devastated that would happen to anyone,” said Waseca Public Schools Superintendent Eric Hudspith.

These teenagers were on their way home from an away game when they entered the construction zone just west of Albert Lea. Seven of them ended up in the hospital with minor injuries.

According to Supt. Hudspith, all of the girls including their coach and the bus driver, are doing okay.

“We’re grateful to first responders and all those who were on the scene immediately able to support us and find a reunification site so our families could get back to their kids,” said Supt. Hudspith.

Now, MnDOT officials along with law enforcement are meeting this week to decide how they can make construction zones safer.

“We’re going to start now and in the days to come,” said Dougherty. “That’s what we are working to prevent while trying to improve the roads. It’s always that balance of what are we doing and what could we do better.”

Sgt. Troy Christianson with the Minnesota State Patrol says MSP is still investigating what led to the crashes. He says fatal accident reports can take up to four to six weeks.

Other drivers are urging people to slow down and pay attention.

“Speed is a factor in these accidents whether it is deadly or not,” said Harper. “I know you might have seen the sign a few miles back, but the sign is there to remind you that you have to come to a stop pretty soon.”

The best way to stay prepared is to always check 511 before you leave for your destination, according to MnDOT. That way you can see how the construction zone and traffic are looking.

Officials also say to slow down and make sure you give cars enough following distance to avoid an accident.