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More road construction means more close calls for workers

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Summer is a big time for construction projects, and there are currently more than five dozen underway in our area.
 
But that work puts hundreds of workers at risk each day.
 
On Interstate 279 north of Pittsburgh, the lanes are tighter and there's a lot of activity from construction, making it dangerous for both drivers and workers.
 
"He put the gas pedal down and made eye contact with me as I went over the windshield. ... I never saw it coming," said Carl Antonelli, who was hit by a vehicle while directing traffic on a construction site.
 

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That was four years ago, and Antonelli wasn't sure he would ever be able to work again. That crash broke his back in four places, and the car involved nearly ran over his legs.
 
And that wasn't the only close call he'd had. He told Channel 11's Catherine Varnum he was nearly hit by a driver who was browsing Facebook while behind the wheel.
 
"They don't realize what they're doing, how easy it is to hit somebody," Antonelli said. 
 
Three crew members working on a project along Route 65 were nearly hit in February. Allen Smith, an engineer at a workzone site, said a car crashed into traffic cones into a work zone, narrowly missing crews. 
 
That driver was never caught, and the incident left workers there on edge for weeks.
 
"It's very difficult. You're constantly turning your head thinking, ' Someone is going to hit me,'" Smith said. "When you're driving the car, it's very different. You see people fly by you. Yu don't think about it."
 
11 Investigates clocked the speeds cars were driving along I-279. The posted speed limit in the construction zone is 45 mph, but 11 Investigates found cars going 63 mph and even 81 mph.
 
State police said they are watching the construction zones closely, but are limited by available manpower. They said since the construction started on I-279, they've handed out 539 traffic citations and given out 130 written warnings.
 
2017 is a big year for construction projects, with more than $300 million going towards improvements in our area. But with those improvements comes risk.
 
"More work zones, more opportunity for work zone crashes," said Yasmeen Manyisha, who works for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
 
There have been 54 crashes on I-279 since the construction started, including one that killed a 2-year-old girl in May.
 
"I want people to pretend it was them out there or one of their families out there doing the work, because it is other people's family members out there doing the job," Antonelli said. 
 
While rain and other difficult driving conditions are additional reasons to slow down, crashes don't just happen in bad weather. In fact, 86 percent of crashes happened when roads were dry, and 61 percent were in broad daylight last year.