Construction zone speed limits clarified

In my Street Smarts column this week Elden Slade of Bothell asked an excellent question about speed limits in construction zones.

State officials sent me an answer. Then they sent me another, better answer. Unfortunately I ran the original answer.

So here’s the question again with the correct answer:

Question: According to a recent story, speed limits can’t be lowered easily and it takes legislation to do it. If that is so, what does it mean when lower speed limit signs are put out at construction sites? Is that a speed limit restriction you can be ticketed for or is it a suggestion? What does “fines double in work zones” mean? Are construction zone speed limits in force during normal working hours or at all times?

In many areas there is so much road work that it would be nice to have an end of construction sign.

Elden Slade, Bothell

Answer: The state legislature establishes minimum and maximum speed limits for different types of roadways. The legislature also gives the secretary of the state Department of Transportation the authority to increase or decrease speed limits.

We make changes to speed limits for a variety of reasons, such as increased development along a route, or a change in roadway alignment because of construction.

Permanent speed limits, which are indicated by black and white speed limit signs, are enforceable. For most construction projects, we do not change the permanent speed limit, though we might for a long-term project.

Advisory speed limits are indicated by black and orange signs. We use advisory speed limits for a variety of purposes, including encouraging drivers to slow down and drive safely through an active work zone. We reduce the speed limit in a work zone where lanes have been narrowed or realigned to give drivers time to adjust to the changes.

While these advisory speed limits are not enforceable, drivers can be ticketed for unsafe driving if they are driving too fast for the current roadway conditions. Find out more about speed limits on our Web site:

The work zone designation is in effect at all times, regardless of whether a driver can see crews working. All construction sites should be marked with “End of Road Work” signs to indicate the end of the work zone. If you notice a work zone without such a sign, you can let us know by e-mailing our construction traffic office at

Rick Roberts, DOT traffic engineer

Ask about traffic

If you have a question about traffic or street rules, send an e-mail to Street Smarts.

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