Work zone safety is important all year long

Thanks to all people who wrote stories for the National Work Zone Awareness Week safety blog series highlighting why work zone safety is so important. The official week is over, but safety in work zones is a priority all year long.

For a variety of transportation-related articles, please check our other KDOT blog site that posts stories and photos several times each week – it's at

Things that work

By Brad Halseth
      Let me start by saying that I cannot count the number of near misses that I have experienced in work zones as a KDOT employee from things such as motorists running past flagmen, driving through the cones or on the wrong side of cones, or just completely ignoring the traffic control. I am not only fortunate but thankful that I have never been part of an accident in a work zone that cost someone their life. A large part of that I am sure is due to the fact that we are deliberate with the way we set up our traffic control.
      In work zones all across the country, the color orange is associated with traffic control and work zone awareness in general. The color orange is a color that seemingly gets motorists’ attention better than any other. With that being said, people also want to get through work zones as quickly or as painless as possible also, which tends make them less observant from time to time.
      I know that we as an agency look for ways to improve or enhance the safety in our work zones. I have had an opportunity at KDOT to work in many variations of work zones over the years as updates and procedure changes have occurred. Some of these changes were an improvement and worked well, and with others the impact on the traveling public was very minimal.
      Since the introduction of the LED light bars to our trucks we have noticed that these tend to get the attention of motorists. Some of our vehicles are also equipped with white LED lights which have been even more beneficial.
      For many years we used a construction grade sheeting for our signage in work zones. We now use a more high performance sheeting which also makes our signs stand out to the traveling public. We also add flags that add a moving visual element to our work zones as they move in the Kansas wind.
      These are just a few items that helped aid our work efforts over the years, I am sure that there will be other changes in the future. We will continue to incorporate changes as they are made as I am sure they are for the safety of our employees and the motorists of Kansas.
Brad Halseth is the Area Superintendent at the Great Bend KDOT office.

Traffic zone safety from the other side of the cones

By Ryan Blosser
      With over 20 years in the construction business, I’ve seen my fair share of work zones and more accidents than I can remember. 
      One instance I remember like it was yesterday was when we were repairing the Kansas Turnpike. We had the road closed to one lane and were working behind the cones in the closed lane. I vividly remember looking back at the oncoming traffic and seeing a car slowing to a stop in the open lane. What happened next I will never forget. 
      Coming around a corner in the open lane was a tanker truck loaded with crude oil. The truck driver couldn’t stop in time and had three options.  He could hit the car and most likely kill the stopping driver, swerve into the closed lane and kill all of us working on the highway or head for the ditch and possibly hit a bridge pier and kill himself. Lucky for us he took the ditch option. 
      As the truck went by on nine of his 18 wheels, it narrowly missed the bridge and somehow came to a rest on all its tires.  As he pulled out of the ditch and into the closed area, I ran down to make sure he was alright and thanked him for not taking the closed lane option. Looking back at that near miss I was able to see how something as simple as not slowing down in a traffic zone turned in a nightmare. We were lucky no one was hurt.
      Working closely with the Kansas Department of Transportation and the Kansas Turnpike Authority you learn quickly that a priority is the traveling public and the workers’ safety.  As a Project Manager I feel personally responsible for both the safety of my crews and employees along with every person who travels through that work zone. So I ask, for your safety and ours, if you’re driving through a work zone please put down your phone, look out ahead, pay attention, follow the signs and KEEP MOVING FORWARD! 
      Ryan Blosser is the General Manager/Contractor Division of Hamm Inc. in Perry

It could have been so much worse

By Mark Roberts
         In my 25 years with the Kansas Turnpike Authority, I’ve seen several alarming situations in construction zones and I’ve had about five near-death experiences. One of those incidents happened just eight months ago, and not just to me, but also to nine other employees.
         It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon on the 21st of August last year. We were laying new pavement on the roadway near East Wichita. I was checking the output of the asphalt mixture like usual when our flagger down the road starts yelling at us to move and get out of the way. It was at that point that a driver swerved into his direction. He was fortunate enough to make it into the ditch in time.
         Your first instinct is to get to safety, and almost all of us were able to. However, the driver of the paver couldn’t get out and in the ditch in time. The driver quickly traveled through the freshly laid mix and headed straight toward the paver. Luckily, the driver swerved back into the lane right before hitting it. Things would have been so much worse if that had not happened.
         It was the middle of the afternoon, but we suspect the driver was impaired, though the driver was never caught. It goes to show that distracted and impaired driving doesn’t happen during a certain time of the day or night, but rather can happen at any moment.
         In fact, on a different day during that same paving project, KTA's communications team was filming and observed 25 distracted drivers in one hour’s time - from texting to reading a newspaper, even a dog on a driver’s lap.
         I implore you - pay attention while you are driving, particularly in work zones. Follow the decreased speed limit, and put down that phone.
         These employees are working to provide a better road for you and they deserve the respect of attentive drivers. They have families they want to get home to also.

Mark Roberts is an Engineering Technician in Wichita with the Kansas Turnpike Authority

If you see the news, I’m ok

By Erin La Row
         Being married to a law enforcement officer is not for the faint of heart. I’ve had my share of phone calls that start off with, “If you see the news, I’m OK.” When my husband, Steve, experiences something traumatic at work, I feel it, too. Especially when it’s an accident involving children. After all, I’m his partner – aka counselor.
         I joke that Steve has crammed an entire career’s worth of experiences into the relatively short 12 years he’s been a law enforcement officer. Surprisingly, it’s not the arrests of gang members, drug raids or bad guys with guns keeping me up at night. It’s the routine traffic stop or tire change along the highway that worries me the most.
         I’m sure highway workers and their families can relate. You have drivers distracted for various reasons. They’re tired or perhaps intoxicated, texting, reading (crazy, I know, but I’ve witnessed it), or fidgeting with the radio. Add high rates of speed, throw in some inclement weather and my husband or a highway worker standing just a few feet away and it’s a tragedy that could have been avoided. The highway can be terribly unforgiving.
         I don’t dwell on the dangers Steve may face each and every day. There isn’t enough anxiety medication in the world. I take comfort knowing Steve has a keen sense of officer safety, as do his colleagues. As my mom used to tell me when I was a teen, it’s the other drivers I worry about. When Steve is working the highway, there are two little boys at home missing him. Waiting for him. Depending on him. And that has made me more mindful of how I drive. I hope we can all safely get through our day and to our destination. There are precious people waiting for us.
         Please slow down in work zones or when you come upon a law enforcement vehicle along the side of the road. After all, they’re simply people (moms and dads, children and grandparents – maybe your friend or neighbor) working to make this world safer for you. And don’t text and drive. Nothing you need to say in a text is more important than a life, whether it’s the love of my life or yours.

Erin La Row is the spouse of Stephen La Row, Technical Trooper with the Kansas Highway Patrol

Too many close calls

By Shad Lohman
      I work for the Kansas Department of Transportation. I have worked in the construction department for almost 30 years and almost everything that we do is behind that thin orange line.
      Work zone safety has to be the priority every day you come to work inside that construction zone.  If you do not make it a priority, bad things happen. There are many examples, and here are a few that have happened in our work group:

uAn Interstate reconstruction project had started on I-70 with traffic placed in a head to head pattern. A late snow storm occurred. An accident happened and air ambulance was needed. A KDOT employee risked their own life to get out in the snow and slow traffic down so it didn’t become a multi-vehicle pileup. A vehicle went into a spin and almost got him. Had he not kept his awareness up, a bad thing could have happened.

uAnother I-70 project had winter work of pre-splitting back slopes. Traffic was merged into the passing lane.  A driver drove through the traffic cones and past some equipment before colliding with a flatbed truck – air ambulance was required.  This type of work zone is common and one could become relaxed, but this work group had remained aware and got each other out of the way.

uA group of teenagers were joy riding in a closed work zone.  Luckily there were no workers present, but the teenagers found themselves in an excavation for a culvert.  They received injuries – not life threatening.

uAgain on I-70, a vehicle/trailer combo missed the median cross over and drove through the traffic cones and collided into the concrete safety barrier. Other vehicles followed. This caused a multi-car accident with fatalities. A KDOT employee arrived on the scene just as it happened because they were planning on going to work that morning in this exact location. The employee helped out as best he could. The memories of that morning convinced him to seek another job.

uA driver decided to do a U-turn on I-70 in a construction zone that was carrying head-to-head traffic. The driver did not complete the u-turn before the collision. The driver of the turning vehicle was pronounced dead at the scene. The other vehicle’s driver sustained significant injuries. That other driver could have easily been anyone of us. Why did the driver decide to ignore the work zone and all its warnings?

uI was on an I-70 median cross-over and became engrossed in thoughts of the project.  I was walking back to my vehicle and heard a loud horn that stopped me in my tracks. A semi-tractor/trailer’s rear view mirror came within inches of my face. After a long while, I was able to get back to my vehicle where I remained for almost an hour before regaining composure. Had that driver not honked/swerved, I would not be here writing this.

This is just a small sampling of what our work group goes through each and every day. The public’s awareness and the worker’s awareness are the reasons we go home each evening.

Shad Lohman is the District Two Construction and Materials Engineer in Salina.