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N.H. State Trooper Lou Copponi monitors traffic in a work zone along I-93 South just before Exit 2 in Salem.

The $800 million Interstate 93 widening is posing safety challenges for the men and women who patrol the highway for the New Hampshire State Police.

Construction is intruding on their work space and complicating duties such as helping stranded motorists, writing tickets or investigating crashes.

The commander of Troop B, which patrols I-93 between Londonderry and Salem, acknowledges the concern.

"It's extremely dangerous for troopers," Lt. Chris Wagner said.

The head of the state's Highway Safety Agency agrees.

"I wouldn't want to do their job," Peter Thomson said. "They have a real tough time doing the job they need to do and stay safe."

The construction is introducing concrete barriers and safety barrels, while narrowing breakdown lanes in an 18- to 20-mile stretch of highway.

"They just don't have a lot of room to do their business," Thomson said.

Traffic patterns are shifting as construction crews move through the zone, meaning drivers — and troopers — can get a different look, sometimes even day to day.

Joe Green, a Londonderry town councilor, commutes daily on I-93 to work in Boston.

"It's a challenge," Green said.

The shifting traffic patterns can be confusing, he concedes.

"They do it at times you wouldn't expect," Green said.

There is a huge volume of traffic, too.

"A hundred thousand cars a day run Interstate 93," Wagner said.

Troopers have to get out of their cruisers to approach stopped vehicles as traffic passes.

"Sometimes cars are coming at them at 80 mph," Wagner said.

Add to that one of the biggest problems for the driving public: distracted drivers.

"That's one of the fairly prevalent issues today," Wagner said. "That is compounding the problem for us. Cars are drifting into the breakdown lane."

There have been no serious injuries for troopers so far, but Wagner acknowledges close calls.

"Absolutely," he said. "There are close calls on any given day."

Cars pass literally within inches of troopers.

"You know it when it blows the hat off your head," Wagner said. "Or you feel a 4,000-pound car twist in the wind."

Green, at times, has wondered about other drivers when they've made last-minute lane changes.

"I've said, 'Man, thank goodness that person finally noticed,'" Green said.

He's not alone.

"People need to slow down," attorney Kathleen DiFruscia of Windham said. "I see a lot of people traveling very fast."

DiFruscia, a selectman in Windham, drives daily to her law office in Methuen and passes construction workers as she gets on the highway at Exit 3 in Windham.

"I'm very conscientious of the fact that people are working there," DiFruscia said.

Troopers manage situations as best they can as they develop.

"If you have a section of roadway where there is guard rail, there is little to no room to move elsewhere," Wagner said. "But it's a little more forgiving with no rail and a soft shoulder. Then you can move a car over so that half of it is on the gravel."

Thomson and Wagner say motorists can help.

"If you see some type of construction sign coming on, slow it down to get through the construction area," Thomson said. "It's just common sense when you see construction going on."

Green said he doesn't get nervous around the construction because he's had to drive through it so many years now on I-93.

He agrees it's good to take it slow.

"I'm not one of those guys that rushes," Green said. "I don't rush through it."

Wagner emphasizes the need for drivers to pay attention.

"When you sit inside a vehicle to drive, your primary focus and responsibility should be driving the car," Wagner said.

Don't crowd the car in front, either.

"Maintain a safe distance," Wagner advises. "Then you've got a sure bet you're going to get to work safe."

New Hampshire also provides a legal protection for troopers, firefighters, tow trucks and construction crews at work on the highway. It's called the Move Over Law.

It requires drivers, where possible, to move into the adjacent free lane away from safety and maintenance vehicles operating with emergency lights. If the driver can't safely move to the adjacent lane, they are obligated to slow down.

Penalties can vary depending on the offense, but Wagner said courts typically fine drivers $150 for violations.

"It's not cheap," he said.

The state Department of Transportation has been extremely helpful and good to work with during construction, Wagner said.

He sees DOT's service patrol that aids stranded motorists as an asset.

"If that service patrol can provide a more benign service, we can free up a trooper," Wagner said. "That's a win-win for everybody."

DOT spokesman Bill Boynton said traffic control has gone well with the I-93 work. But it remains an active construction zone, posing risks for officers and construction workers.

"These are real people out there," Boynton said.

Talking on a cellphone or eating are things drivers shouldn't do while driving, he said.

"In a work zone, that's much more dangerous," Boynton said.

Statistics show work zone safety is in the interest of motorists, who by far account for the most deaths and personal injuries, Boynton said.

DiFruscia knows well the consequences for people from accidents and how little it takes to cause them.

"I've done a lot of catastrophic injuries work and it doesn't take too much for it to happen," DiFruscia said.

Thomson has credited the state's high visibility enforcement program aimed at commuters with helping put New Hampshire on track for its lowest highway fatality record in 44 years of record-keeping.

Wagner said another round of targeted enforcement is slated for I-93 on Nov. 28.

It will be publicized in advance, as it always is, stressing a "Commute With Care" message.

"This is no secret," Wagner said. "We want people to be safe."

Expect increased I-93 patrols around the upcoming holidays, too, as state police try to deter speeding, distracted and drunken driving, Wagner said.

Stay informed

Commuters can get I-93 construction updates from message boards displayed along the route, DOT's Tweets on Twitter, nhdot.com and 511nh.com, and in The Eagle-Tribune and on eagletribune.com.

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