Distractions in a Mobile Work Zone

By Ted C. Coleman

I've witnessed many distracted motorists who have caused accidents in the Wichita Metro area during mobile traffic control work zones with TMA/Crash Attenuators while pot hole patching. It’s a dangerous occupation any time your job site is just a few feet away from fast moving traffic. It only takes a couple of seconds for distracted motorists to cause things to get a little too exciting. (That’s one heck of an understatement if you ask me!)... lol.
Anytime you step out of your vehicle during a mobile work zone you must pay attention to everything that is going on around you. Even though we have flashing warning lights, and road work action signs posted on our TMA/Crash Attenuator trucks while pot hole patching, we still encounter those texting while driving and other distractions which have become a major concern to us public service workers.
Dedicated KDOT and/or construction workers work hard to build and maintain the roads and bridges relied on every day to get the traveling public to their destination safely. The least the traveling public can do to improve work zone safety is to take the foot off the gas and keep their eyes on the road in work zones. Drivers must pay extra attention in mobile work zones, which means putting away cell phones and watching out for any changes to normal road conditions.
Speeding and distracted driving through stationary or mobile work zones is dangerous and at times, has proven deadly for motorists and public works employees.
As a supervisor I tell my crew that while they are performing their job in a work zone, they have to keep their head in the game and stay alert, use caution, never turn your back on traffic, be responsible and always be mindful of your surroundings.
The lives of KDOT and construction workers and the motoring public are all at stake in the work zone. We enthusiastically welcome the stepped up traffic enforcement the KHP Troopers provide against speeding in work zones, because our TMA/Crash attenuators, flashing warning lights, road work action signs, traffic cones alone do not protect against distracted, impaired or speeding drivers. At the end of the day we want to make sure that every worker goes home in one piece to their loved ones.

Ted C. Coleman is a Public Service Administrator/Highway Supervisor at the KDOT Wichita East office.

Aim High

By David Howard

As a contractor working on rural highway projects across the Midwest, we have for years delivered a proprietary training program to our full time staff to promote safe driving skills.  This program emphasizes five keys to safe driving, with one key being to aim high when driving.   
Simply put, the driver is instructed to look up toward the horizon of the roadway in front of them, not just the roadway immediately in front of them.   Practicing this technique quickly verifies the value…our vision picks up what is immediately in front of us when we dedicate our focus to the horizon, but the opposite is not true.  
I, along with the men and women I work with in highway construction work zones, have seen all too often what can occur when a driver is not aiming high with their vision.   Slow or stopped traffic within our work zones can be missed by a driver that is not aiming high until it is too late, and the results can truly be catastrophic.  
I am very proud of how seriously our employees take safety, but I know we are a part of a small group of our population that truly understands how all alone we feel when an accident occurs on a rural highway and we, men and women simply doing our jobs building or repairing highways, must do what we wish to never do…become first responders to an accident.
Please let that first orange “Road Construction Ahead” sign you see be a reminder to aim high.

 David Howard is the President/CEO of Koss Construction Company.

Very Close Calls

Hello, my name is Marcus Leck, and I am the KDOT Area Maintenance Superintendent in Independence. As I talk to new employees, my first line of advice is to always expect the unexpected, never take your eyes off approaching traffic and always keep a clear escape route because you will need it at some point.
As a Superintendent and a KDOT employee, there was one near miss that scared me as bad as I have ever been. It was one of those near misses that makes your stomach jump up in your throat and leaves an empty feeling that no one ever wants to feel, especially a supervisor, when the injury can involve one of your employees.
We had closed U.S. 169 highway east of Independence at the request of Kansas Highway Patrol at the U.S. 160 junction because of a fatality accident. It was extremely foggy and in the middle of the night.  We had flagmen in four different locations. 
 Just west of the accident scene, Larry Walker and Steve Shepard were working the flagging station when an errant driver failed to stop and blew through their flagging station.   As I stood with the Trooper a quarter-mile to the east at the accident scene, all we could hear was the car that did not stop, the sound of cones being run over, and the uncertainty of knowing if that sound was one of our coworkers. 
The Trooper and I took off running towards the flagging station where we were met by an oncoming car rolling to a stop just short of the Troopers’ car. I continued on towards the flagging station where I was met by a very upset Mr. Walker.   Larry was quick to explain what happened and that he and Steve were fine. I will never forget the feeling I felt at that time as it was bitter sweet, scared to death still but such a relief knowing your employees were OK.  
The driver had gone past all the work zone warning signs and all the cones and even ran over part of the cones and still gave a statement that neither she nor her boyfriend saw any warning signs. Luckily Steve and Larry expected the unexpected, never took their eyes off approaching traffic and always kept a clear escape route to get out of the way.
We constantly receive complaints from stopped motorists after they about run over us that we ought to have signs out, or why we didn’t have warnings for them of the closed road back at the junction, etc. As part of our jobs, we always act professionally explaining you must have missed the six signs that you drove past, or the 15 cones along the center line, or you drove past a variable message board at the junction explaining to you that the road was closed ahead but we will make sure all of them are still in place and have not blown over.
On the flip side of some of our complaints, occasionally we will have the public offer a hand wave and say thanks. These types of gestures sure make the job seem worthwhile and make the day go by much faster.
Providing safety to EVERYONE inside the work zone is the most important job we do daily. And awareness is the best form of safety that anyone can display in keeping everyone safe.
As I close, please remember no matter which part of a work zone you are in, PLEASE always expect the unexpected and pay attention – at the end of the day, we all want to arrive home safe.

In the name of safety

By Lt. Josh Kellerman

            Do I have to obey the work zone signs at night or when workers are not present?  The answer is “YES.”  This is just one of many questions we get at the Kansas Highway Patrol in reference to work zones in our state.  Once an area of roadway is designated as a work zone with the appropriate signage, it remains a work zone until the signs are taken down.  In close cooperation with KDOT, the Kansas Highway Patrol strives to help make these work zones safe for our highway workers through education and vigorous enforcement.
            Many of these work zones include reduced speeds, lane closures, no passing zones, and flaggers controlling movement within the zone.  All of these changes go towards making the work zone safer for our highway workers.  But, these roadway adjustments are merely a piece of the puzzle for work zone safety.  Work zone safety is heavily dependent on the safe driving responsibility of the motoring public.  Oftentimes, vehicles are traveling full speed within feet of our highway workers.  These workers are depending on the motoring public to give 100% of their attention while traveling through their zone.  When signs simply are not enough to keep the zones safe, rigorous enforcement from law enforcement agencies statewide can help.
When you enter the work zone, you may see a state trooper sitting near the beginning or end of the work zone area.  Our hope is that drivers have already seen the work zone signs and have slowed and entered the zone safely.  If not, we hope that by our presence, drivers will enter cautiously, safely travel through, and exit the zone.  The other option is, as I mentioned before, rigorous enforcement.  Most know fines are doubled through work zones, and depending on the infraction, fines climb very quickly for good reason.
The KHP works to patrol these zones day and night, whether workers are present or not.  There are also times when we are summoned to problem areas and spend additional time within the zone to help make them safe.  Having spent hours and hours within these zones personally, I have seen the types of hazards our highway workers face.  Through this enforcement, I have written my fair share of warnings and tickets, each one written in the name of safety.
Safety is something EVERYONE must take seriously, whether you are working on the road, driving on the road, or enforcing the laws that govern the road.  For law enforcement, we understand the importance of the work zones and the safety these personnel need to work on our roads.  Without the hard work and dedication from our highway workers, Kansans would not get to enjoy some of the best roadways in America. 
The Kansas Highway Patrol would like to say a big thank you to all of our highway workers and express our deep appreciation for the hard work they do.

Lt. Josh Kellerman is with the Kansas Highway Patrol

SALT on the Roads

By Brad Anderson

I know what you’re thinking - what in the world does SALT on the roads have to do with the beginning of another maintenance and construction season?  Salt is used on the roads during the winter. But there is another way we can SALT the roads - SAVE A LIFE TODAY.  
            Kansas roadways are busier as the days get nicer. And KDOT employees are busy working on road projects, ensuring transportation needs.  This means that while we are working on the roadways paying attention to the job task at hand, we expect you to focus on the roadway you are traveling on.  Please take notice and pay attention to all the orange signs, warning and informing you of upcoming roadwork - they tell you a story of where you need to be on the roadway.  Look and listen for equipment and the operators running it.  Please drive cautiously and alert through the entire work zone.  We rely on your attentiveness while driving to get through the work day. 
            My entire KDOT career has been spent working in a Subarea, which happens to have an interstate route.  Many of you know that traffic flow on interstate at times can be simply crazy, and when dealing with traffic control you have to be on alert at all times.   I myself have personally had close calls and experiences with traffic control issues - here are a couple situations that stand out the most. 
            On I-70, our crew was doing a mobile operation on the outside shoulder.  We had all the correct equipment needed for the operation.  We happened to stop for a moment, and luckily one of the crew members was looking back towards the approaching traffic.   An RV camper was coming towards us in the driving lane, and what the driver didn’t notice was that the awning had broken free from its side and was hanging away from the unit.  It wasn’t just the tarp, it was the complete awning structure.   We quickly signaled to the driver to get over to the open passing lane, but it was too late.   The awning hit and went down the side of the KDOT truck.   All of the employees were ok, and minor damage was done to the truck, but the whole scenario was too close for comfort.
            The second and more memorable event was an accident at night around 9 p.m.  A semi hauling a full trailer load of cattle went into the median over on its side on I-70.  Any time you set up traffic control on Interstate you have more work to do, but when you add darkness into the mix the task becomes more difficult.
            There we so many things going on - emergency vehicles with lights everywhere, a portable corral set up in the median holding a trailer full of cattle, a wrecker service trying to get the semi and trailer stood up and hauled off, local farmers and ranchers with stock trailers volunteering to help eventually take the cattle away …   And wouldn’t you know it, there was another vehicle accident due to someone focusing on all the activity going on, and not the road they were driving on.
            After all that, the clean-up finished around 3:30 a.m. and we started picking up our traffic control.  Then it happened – a third accident a couple miles down the road. Apparently some cattle had gotten free when the door flew open during the crash and ran along the KDOT right of way fencing. They came out on the roadway and a semi with a box trailer swerved to miss them and tipped over on its side right on I-70.   We now had to set up our second set of traffic control for that night.   By the time the second accident was cleaned up, daylight had come - a long night was finally over. 
All that we are asking is that drivers do their part during this maintenance and construction season to make sure they get where they are going safely, and we as workers get to go home to our families each night.  Remember if we all work together, and do our parts, we can SALT the roads in Kansas, even in the summer.  Save A Life Today

Brad Anderson is the KDOT Subarea Supervisor in Abilene

National Work Zone Awareness Week

Check back here daily from April 15-19, 2013, which is National Work Zone Awareness Week as there will be news blogs posted every day from people sharing their thoughts and stories showing why work zone safety is so important.

For more information on events taking place in Kansas and other work zone safety information, you can also check out the Kansas Department of Transportation's website at www.ksdot.org, then click on the Go Orange logo.