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.