Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Red flag raised on roadwork

Woman holding 'slow' sign says drivers ignore her

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Jodi Mousseau has a simple request when it comes to her current occupation.

"I don't want to die," she said. "I don't want to get hurt."

For two summers, Mousseau has been flagging traffic for a city road-construction crew, and every morning she's nervous. Mousseau holds a sign with "Slow" on one side and "Stop" on the other.

Pretty straightforward, except "half of them (drivers) don't even notice me and I'm pretty noticeable," Mousseau said on a sweltering Tuesday on St. Mary's Road. "I feel like a glow stick."

Her summer job -- while waiting to get into a nurse's-aide course at Red River College -- is to keep drivers and her Darco Enterprises crew safe.

Mousseau was paying particular attention to the trial of 70-year-old Mitchell Blostein, who last Friday was acquitted in the death of Brittany Murray, a traffic flagwoman, in October 2010. Blostein was driving 112 kilometres an hour in a 60 km/h construction zone on Highway 207.

Mousseau, 21, is the same age as Murray when she died and does the same kind of work.

What Mousseau sees each day -- what construction crews everywhere see -- is an unsettling percentage of drivers who simply ignore speed postings around construction sites, Darco supervisor Jerry Banville said.

"Winnipeg drivers are really bad," he said. "The drivers have no respect for the workers."

Banville said he believes the situation is getting more dangerous for two reasons: drivers' use of texting or cellphone devices and the pressure on construction crews to do more work while closing fewer lanes.

"It's tight," Banville noted. "They give you no working room anymore."

Is that safer for workers? "Not even close," Banville replied.

There is a disconnect between drivers, more of whom are venting at work-crew members such as Mousseau, and the construction workers who walk a daily tightrope in confined spaces.

What's curious, said Mousseau, is that flaggers must attend clinics to get certification for work-safety standards, but she can't remember any special focus on driving through construction zones during driver education.

On Tuesday, Banville surveyed the traffic on St. Mary's Road and said: "It's a 30-kilometre zone, but they're all going well over 40. They still try to do their normal 50 (kilometres). I don't know, everybody's always in a hurry, going nowhere.

"You learn to live with it after a while."

CAA Manitoba spokeswoman Liz Peters wouldn't comment on driver attitudes, but said "there's a lot more going on in the car," referring largely to hand-held electronic devices such as cellphones.

Recently, Mousseau counted 25 drivers texting. A semi-trailer truck driver counted 35 drivers texting in the time it took to load up.

When Blostein was acquitted, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Doug Abra ruled Blostein's conduct didn't represent a "marked departure" from the normal standard of care expected of motorists. In a written decision, Abra said he was "satisfied he (Blostein) was driving with due care and attention."

When Mousseau heard the decision, her first reaction was "are you kidding me?"

She agreed Murray should not have been wearing iPhone ear buds, as reported during the trial. Still, what Mousseau often hears from drivers is a lot worse.

Last week on Rue des Meurons, she made one driver stop while a loader came to clean up a dirt spill. The guy started screaming expletives in rush-hour traffic.

"He called me every name in the book," she said. "It's always the flagger's fault."

What's the message Mousseau believe's Murray's death should send?

"Slow down and pay attention. Look for signs. Watch for people. They (drivers) are probably caught up in their own little world. They just need to take a deep breath."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Why don’t more people slow down at road construction sites? Do you slow down? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 3, 2013 B1

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Updated on Wednesday, July 3, 2013 at 6:44 AM CDT: replaces photo, adds video, adds question for discussion

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