Put your phones down, watch your speed on the Beltline; increased patrol may be coming soon

MADISON, Wis.–  A partnership between the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Dane County Sheriff’s Office could put more patrol cars on the Beltline to help mitigate traffic and reduce crashes related to speeding and distracted driving.

The departments’ efforts work hand-in-hand with the 10-mile construction project to implement a flex lane. The construction is expected to last through December.

Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Novotny said because there is so much construction happening on the Beltline right now, “We have to try to convince people to change their driving behavior and go the speed limit. When they told me they were going to be shrinking the lanes, I was honestly envisioning Armageddon.”

Novotny has made a career out of patrolling the Beltline and ensuring public safety for all drivers.

Wisconsin DOT’s regional communications spokesperson Steven Theisen said the most common crashes he sees in construction zones are cars that rear end each other due to speeding or multi-tasking while behind the wheel.

“The beltline speed limit is 55 mph and we encourage drivers to obey that posted speed limit,” Theisen said.

Theisen said the DOT set aside $69,000 to pay for increased patrol on the Beltline until construction wraps up at the end of 2021.

“It will really help if they do their part because the men and women who work behind the barrels and the barrier wall want to get home to their families too,” Theisen said.

Dane County’s Personnel & Finance Committee unanimously recommended the funds from the DOT be used to cover the costs of increased patrol five days a week, three hours a day. Novotny said right now, Wisconsin State Patrol currently monitors the Beltline but if the Dane County Board approves the funds next week, patrol squads with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office will take over that role and will patrol the beltline from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. Novotny said they will start by making a presence on the Beltline to encourage drivers to slow down, then will move to issuing warnings before issuing tickets to anyone speeding or on their phones in any spot where a work zone sign is posted or a construction worker is visible.

“There isn’t a spot on this beltline that doesn’t meet those two requirements,” Novotny said.

When the construction first started about four weeks ago, Novotny said he responded to several crashes. He hopes he doesn’t have to respond to any more.

“We want you to change your behavior,” he said.

According to the Madison Police Department, tickets for speeding drivers in a work zone can cost anywhere between $136.60 to $817.00. Points on driver’s records will range from 3-6 points for speeds in excess of 45 mph over the posted limit.

The citation for using a cell phone in a construction zone is $86.20 and three points on the driver’s record, although hands-free devices are allowed as well as drivers calling 911.

Theisen said the DOT is considering keeping increased patrols on the Beltline after construction is complete.