Numbers are more than just statistics

By Sue Reiss
         We all see the highway fatality statistics, and following a seven-year decline, they rose 5% in 2012, to 36,200 traffic fatalities, which included over 700 work zone deaths that year. Those numbers are more than just statistics. Each one of those numbers represents a person who left behind parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and friends who were devastated by their loss.
         Those victims will never walk their daughters down the aisle, or meet their grandchildren. The tragedy of these lost lives is unspeakable. Those that are lost in work zone accidents touch each of us personally because they were part of our industry and by extension, our lives. The deaths of those men, women and children break our hearts every time a work zone fatality becomes public, even if we didn’t know them personally. They were a part of our collective family, and each loss is heartbreaking.
         The ATSS Foundation is aligned with ATSSA in their Toward Zero Deaths mantra.  As such, our focus for 2014 and beyond is threefold.  Toward Zero Deaths, Toward Zero Scholarships, Toward Zero Names of the Foundation’s National Work Zone Memorial Wall.
         The American Traffic Safety Services Foundation helps the families of those lost by providing scholarships to the children and/or remaining spouses of those deceased, or even permanently disabled workers. This year, the Foundation Board elected to raise the amount of our scholarships so that their value is even more meaningful to their recipients. I feel blessed to have met a number of those children in person, and have spoken to even more of the recipients and applicants on the phone. In addition to the emotional loss of their loved ones, they are often left with a financial loss that potentially eliminates their hopes and dreams of a college degree. The scholarships that the Foundation provides these surviving children are often desperately needed in order for them to attend college. Without them, I have been told many times, college might have been out of their reach.
         The Memorial Wall’s names are those that have been lost “between the signs,” whether DOT personnel, workers, motorists or even pedestrians.  The Foundation struggles to find the names of those people, since there does not exist a source for that information, along with the names of their families, who need to give permission for their names to be added to the Memorial.   We are always looking for help from anyone that may have knowledge to share in regards to those names.
         For more information, please visit the ATSSA Foundation website at

Sue Reiss is the ATSSA Foundation Board President

Work Zone Awareness: A Partnership in Safety

By Jake Jackson
         I’ll never forget that day last spring. My crew and I were applying high friction surface coating to a bridge near El Dorado on the Turnpike. It was a pretty normal day and project. We’d set up the work zone shutting down the right-hand lane of northbound traffic. Things were going well and we were at the half-way point of the bridge.
        The next thing we knew a car rear-ended another car, careened out of the left-bound lane and entered our work zone. The crew and I fled the area and the car stopped just feet from where we’d been working. We were okay just terribly shaken up. (On bridges, there’s just nowhere to go!)
         It would have been nice to catch our breath, but the reality is we couldn’t. Traffic was now blocked in both lanes. We had to quickly take action as traffic would be backing up, greatly increasing the likelihood of yet another accident.
         We notified dispatch and called for a tow truck. Because traffic backed up behind the accident, these emergency helpers had to drive against traffic to get to us. We had patrol, not assigned to the Turnpike, assist as well. It was a mess to say the least. Traffic was backed up about 2 ½ miles in just the 10 minutes it took to clear a lane and get things moving again.
         So what do I want you to learn from this story? It’s that work zone safety is a partnership. We’ll set up work zones, but we need you – the traveling public – to work hard at keeping yourself safe. If you do this, you’ll keep us safe, too.
Here’s what we do to make work zones safe:
      1.    Activate the digital message signs along the turnpike
      2.    Close lanes for work, measuring and marking well in advance of the actual work zone
      3.    Set up width restrictions so wide loads are diverted and not allowed to travel in the work area
      4.    Wear reflective clothing
      5.    Keep the number of workers to a minimum

Here are some things we’d like you to remember when near or in a work zone:
      1.    Be prepared for merging or changing lanes
      2.    Watch for flaggers
      3.    Go slow; be prepared to stop
      4.    Maintain a safe following distance
      5.    Avoid distracted driving
          As far as my crew and I, we’re back at it – just extra cautious. We hope this spring and summer will be work-zone accident free and that you’ll be joining us to keep work zones safe for everyone.

Jake Jackson is an Equipment Foreman with the Kansas Turnpike Authority


Work Zone Safety: A Costly Mistake

By Carman Ange
         Just the night before, I had packed Curtis’ cooler with bottles of Gatorade because you need lots of fluids when working on the highway in the heat. And we talked about him going fishing soon with his brother who had just gotten back from Afghanistan.
         The next morning, imagine saying good bye to your son, not realizing that will be the last thing said. Imagine not being able to see your loved one, until funeral arrangements are made, and their body is prepped for viewing. Imagine the crew members that were there that day and had to go back work.
         Imagine on August 5, 2012, that was your son that went to work and didn’t get to come home. My family’s world was changed forever that day when we were notified that my son Curtis was struck by a car and killed while working in a Kansas work zone. Curtis was only 22 with his entire life ahead of him.
         As a mother, you ask yourself - what could I have done to protect him? Why did I let him leave the house? Did I tell him that I loved him? Why couldn't it have been me instead of him? I can't get past that horrific day. I’m constantly reliving that day over and over again in my mind. You can't sleep, you have nightmares of him in the casket because that’s the last time you seen him. The pain is so unbearable, you just hope it doesn’t happen to someone else. I strongly believe the law needs to be changed, because some people don’t care if it just says fines double in the work zone.
         Work zone safety involves all road users, including roadway workers, emergency responders, law enforcement, pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists. Remember as a driver “we” make the life-saving decision. Once “we” get behind that wheel, “we” are the ones ultimately responsible. The decisions “we” make not only affect us, but also affect the ones around us. Can “we” make a difference? Yes.
         Obey the posted speed and warning signs, don’t drive while under the influence, stay alert and pay attention, avoid distractions, prepare for sudden changes in traffic, expect delays and take an alternate route if available. By doing these things, you improve safety and reduce accidents - an accident possibly to you, your loved one, or other motorists who could be injured or killed.   
         National Work Zone Awareness Week is April 7 through April 11. I ask everyone for a moment of silence for the loved ones that lost their lives. Please give thanks to the emergency responders, law enforcement, motorist assists, highway construction crews, and many others who I might of have missed, they work in these dangerous conditions. Why? They’re there to “protect us.” 
          Don’t let this tragedy happen to your family, your loved ones, friends, and co-workers.

Carman Ange’s son, Curtis Harlan, was killed in a highway work zone

Three Close Calls

By Peter Wiehe
         In my 29-year KDOT career in the Kansas City Metro area, I have had many close calls but three stay in my mind. In telling these stories, I will try to give you an idea of what things that we have to look out for each day and every day we work on the road to make it safe for the traveling public.
         The first incident was when I was an Equipment Operator at the Lamar shop - we were cleaning drains on northbound I-35 at Southwest Boulevard on the inside barrier wall and we had the left lane closed. We pulled the grate off the first drain and I crawled into clean the drain.  I was in the drain about 30 seconds when I heard tires screeching and my coworkers yelling get down.  
         As I looked up out of the drain, all I could see was my coworkers running and climbing over the barrier wall, and then I could hear a car hit the arrow board.  The next thing that happened was the scary part. The car went right over the top of the drain that I was in. I still remember what the underneath side of that car looks like, and that happened 26 years ago. I am glad my coworkers were looking out for me - otherwise I probably wouldn’t be here today.
         The second incident was on K-32 at Turner Diagonal. We were doing bridge deck repair and we had an overnight lane closer set up in the left lane. The first day we hammered out the holes and formed them up. The second day we were pouring concrete. I was finishing the right edge of the hole when I heard the crew yelling and turned around to see a tractor trailer coming right at me knocking down the cones that were right in line with me.
         I had no place to go but into the concrete that I was finishing. The area supervisor pulled me out and called KHP to chase the truck down. They found the truck about a mile away and the area supervisor went to identify the truck. The driver of the truck didn’t think he had done anything wrong, but the Trooper gave him a verbal warning.
         The third incident was during a snow storm, the visibility was about an eighth of a mile.  I received a call from KHP at 1:30 a.m., they needed traffic control on southbound I-435 at Kansas Avenue.   A trash truck had rolled over and they needed I-435 closed at Kansas Avenue.  All my crews were plowing snow, so I got help from a mechanic in our shop, a motorist assist, and the Kansas City, Kansas, police department.
         We closed all three lanes using my pickup in the number one lane, the motorist assist in the number two lane, and the KCK police in the number three lane. This is the best we could do with what we had, and everything was set up and working fine for about an hour. The motorist assist came over to talk to me, and was standing outside of my pick up for a couple of minutes. When I looked in the mirror, I could see a set of head lights headed right for my pick up, all I could say is we are going to get hit.
         The motorist assist turned around and started running away. The car missed my pick-up by two inches and hit the motorist assist pick-up and broke the parking pin and sent the pick-up about 300 yards down the road. The driver of the car said later to the Trooper that he wasn’t drunk that he only had one pitcher of beer. It was hard for all of us out there not to lose our cool, we were all very fortunate that no one got hurt.
          So I am asking that you pay attention to the road work signs, look out for workers, and other drivers on the road.  Please don’t use your cell phones while you are driving and don’t drink and drive. We want you to get where you are going safe, and we want to go home at the end of the day as well.         

 Peter Wiehe is the Highway Supervisor at the KDOT Bonner Springs office.


Do we Obey Road Work Traffic Control Devices?

By Neal Saskowski
         Our company Pavers, Inc., completed a small intersection project that by number of vehicles was the busiest in Salina with over 32,000 vehicles per day. The project had 60 calendar days to complete and was actually completed in 45 calendar days. Traffic was restricted to one lane in each direction and NO LEFT TURNS were allowed anywhere in the work zone. The work zone speed limit was set at 20 mph. In the 45-calendar day period, law enforcement issued 506 work zone citations. Most were speeding and illegal left turns. At one point in the project there were six to eight NO LEFT TURN signs and at least four 20 mph signs in each direction. Really!
         Vandenburgh Street in Wellington was completely closed for re-construction. A semi hauling propane drives around 10 barricades with ROAD CLOSED signs on them, proceeds down the rock sub grade when he finally realizes that he cannot proceed any further. When asked where he was going he stated that his GPS told him that this was the highway he was supposed to be on! This same project had an elderly lady in her 80’s follow a concrete delivery truck into the work zone. She was adamant that this was the road to highway 81.
         Twice on two different projects in Hays we had someone drive their vehicle into fresh concrete pavement, almost striking the concrete finishers. The first instance traffic was being controlled by flaggers to provide a closed lane for the workers. A motorist while driving in the flagged lane attempted to turn into a closed intersection in the work area and actually ran into the rear of the concrete paver, just trying to get to the side street. The second instance, a motorist drove around the ROAD CLOSED barricades and when she realized that she could not proceed past the concrete paver and workers she attempted to drive around the concrete paver with the workers waving and screaming to stop, right through the wet concrete.
         On Kansas Avenue in Newton in front of the medical center and the Wal-Mart entrance, we had seven days to remove and replace half of the entrance. Into the medical center we had a single lane ONE WAY in and ONE WAY out. Of all the vehicles going into the medical center, less than 10% obeyed the traffic control.
         Of course there are many reasons the traveling public disobeys work zone traffic control. One of the greatest is as long as they can get away with it and not get caught; they will do what they want. After 35 years in the construction business I have thought I heard it all, but throughout the state of Kansas, you will find some excuse that you have never heard.
         With all the work zone problems, I find disobedience to be the #1 problem, followed by not paying attention and ignorance. The traveling public needs a change in mentality to keep the not only the workers safe in work zone but all those who have to travel through it also.

 Neal Saskowski is the Vice President of Pavers, Inc., in Salina


Working Together

By Adam Winters
           Over the last year, I have worked two different work zones within Shawnee County as part of the Extra Enforcement Program, a joint effort between the Kansas Department of Transportation and the Kansas Highway Patrol.  During my time in these zones, I have noticed that highway workers have to perform their jobs just a few feet from traffic. Obviously work zones utilize traffic cones, proper signage, and barriers, but in large part their safety is heavily dependent on the motoring publics’ safe driving.  When unsafe driving habits are seen in these work zones, oftentimes law enforcement is asked to assist. 
           During this past year, the first work zone I worked was on U.S. 24 Highway at Topeka Boulevard.  Workers were replacing the bridge over Topeka Boulevard.  This work zone had a 45 mph speed limit that was reduced to 30 mph as you got farther into the work area.  While patrolling this work zone, I noticed that I dealt with a large amount of speed related violations.  I would consistently see vehicles driving at 15-20 miles per hour over the posted reduced speed limit and some as high as 25 miles per hour over. 
           Another common violation that I would see was driver’s driving through or around barriers. These barriers are placed to provide “protection” in a work zone.  Not only are these barriers used to prevent injuries to the workers, but also to drivers.  You can only imagine what kind of issues could have arisen if a section of this bridge was missing and someone drove off of it.  Luckily, throughout this entire project we never had any major accidents.  I think this can be attributed to proper work zone signage, highway workers awareness, and law enforcement presence. 
           The second work zone I worked was on U.S. 24 Highway and Menoken Road.  This work zone has a reduced speed limit of 50 mph but I still saw the same traffic violations as before.  This project had gone along pretty well with no major accidents or issues until January.  On January 23, one of our troopers was struck while conducting enforcement in this work zone.  These types of crashes and others like it, serve as vivid reminders of the dangers of working within a construction zone.
            When traveling through a work zone the only “protection” that the workers and sometimes law enforcement have is traffic cones.  This “protection” does not stop a vehicle from going through them and hitting a worker.  So as you travel through the many work zones throughout the state in the coming months, please afford these workers their “protection.”   Drive with due diligence and obey all posted reduced speed limits and traffic control signs.

 Adam Winters is a Technical Trooper with the Kansas Highway Patrol