Review: Troopers counted commute toward patrol time

Last year, State Highway Patrol Lt. John Ivarsson reported conducting 88 special patrols in construction work zones as part of a federally-funded effort to convince motorists to slow down.

His enforcement constituted driving from his home in Apex through a work zone to and from his desk job at the patrol headquarters in Raleigh. Each patrol lasted 15 minutes. He drove in an unmarked car and wrote one ticket for all of 2007.

Sgt. Charles Joyner said he recorded 35 patrols of 15 minutes each. He issued six tickets in 2007.

The federal government has provided $1.6 million for “special” patrols, but Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration, said drive-throughs don't cut it.

“If they are just passing through, that deserves some looking into,” he said.

An analysis of patrol activity data by The News & Observer shows a surge in 15-minute construction zone patrols after a patrol major sent out an e-mail in 2007 telling the troops to record “all time spent in or traveling through a work zone.”

Maj. Gregory Hayes' order, issued April 26, 2007, told troopers that the patrol was behind in work zone patrols and needed to increase them so the highway patrol could justify the $1.6 million it received for the special enforcement.

“Many staff members, including myself, commute daily through work zones but never record the hours …,” Hayes wrote. Hayes said in an interview he did not intend for troopers to count time just passing through work zones.

The News & Observer learned about Hayes' e-mail in November, prompting then Commander Fletcher Clay to issue a clarification of Hayes' order, telling troopers that merely passing through work zones does not constitute special enforcement.

Patrol officials say the special enforcement is working. They said fatal accidents in work zones dropped from 26 in 2004 to nine last year, and crashes fell from 1,521 to 989 in that period.