The call a highway supervisor fears

My name is Troy Whitworth and I have spent the past 29 years working for KDOT in some capacity; whether it was as a front line worker, Supervisor or Manager. I spent the majority of my early career based in the Kansas City area working on multi-lane highways with high traffic counts.

Troy Whitworth
As a Supervisor and Manager, the worst news you can receive is the call saying one of your people has been hurt while working on the road. I received one of those calls one night - an employee of mine had been struck by a vehicle while he was providing traffic control for an accident scene.
Fearing the worst; I asked if he was ok.  I was told he was in the emergency room being checked out by a doctor and was unaware of the extent of his injuries.  I made my way to the hospital wondering what had happened and hoping that he would be alright. When I got to his room in the ER; I found him in surprisingly good spirits but a bit sore from where the car hit him and from where he hit the ground.
I asked him what had happened. He told me he had closed down a ramp along the interstate for the traffic accident he got called out for. He said he saw headlights moving toward the ramp. The lights just kept coming at him and at the reflectorized cones delineating the closure. Before he knew it the car was almost on top of him; he jumped out of the way. The car struck his legs and spun him around knocking him to the edge of the roadway and out of the path of the vehicle.  The car continued up the ramp almost striking a police officer as it sped by.
Seeing what had just happened; the police leapt into action. After a frantic car chase, the police were able to get the vehicle stopped before someone else was hurt. We later found out the driver had been drinking and was impaired enough he didn’t know he had hit someone. 
In this instance we were very fortunate that the injuries to my employee weren’t life threatening. It could have been much more tragic and has been in other work zone crashes.  
Our field maintenance and construction workers have a difficult and sometimes dangerous job to do. They do amazing work making the roads safer for the traveling public. Remember to be considerate as you drive the roadway. When you see workers on the roadway, give them room to do their job.

Troy Whitworth is the Assistant Director of Operations at KDOT.

Nothing surprises me anymore

When you’re out on the roadway for a living, you hear, see and sometimes even experience scary moments. 
My name is Kenny Olson and I’m a Roadway Striping Foreman. I’ve been with KTA for 12 years and I have had more close calls on the roadway than many would think. Just last summer, I had vehicles hit at two different times while painting roadway lines.
Kenny Olson
One of these was in Wichita on the entrance ramp from the K-96 plaza. We were painting the white line on the right side, early in the morning when a driver came down the entry ramp way too fast.
Because of her speed, she wasn’t able to move out the way in time and hit the corner of our attenuator (the crash cushion hooked at the back of a truck) and then bounced and hit the guardrail. She was lucky she didn’t hit the truck again after that, but rather carried all the way through the right of way.
The other happened up near Lecompton where the road goes from three lanes to two. We were on the right with the striper when, for a reason I still don’t know today, a semi-truck locks up his brakes while in the left lane. His cab cut between the attenuator truck and the truck ahead of it, and jack-knifed.
The trailer whipped so fast that it hit the attenuator sideways and ended up back in the roadway, blocking traffic. The driver just backed up and drove away! Luckily a trooper caught up to him at a service area soon after.
These are just my two most recent experiences, but there’s been so many more. From a vehicle not paying attention and actually driving between the barrier wall and our striping machine to another driver purposely driving into the grass and back up onto the road to avoid driving through the work zone. Nothing surprises me anymore, and that’s the sad reality.
We can take as many safety precautions as necessary, making changes to safety procedures, but ultimately, drivers need to pay attention. People are in such a hurry, on their phones, or even having a dog on their lap licking their face (yes, that was a real thing I saw once on the road). Leave sooner. Watch the roadway signs. Pay attention.

Sometimes other drivers put us in bad situations

Trooper Ben Gardner
My name is Ben Gardner and for 18 years, I've been a state trooper for the Kansas Highway Patrol.  During my time, I've responded to numerous crashes involving damage, injuries, or death. 
Many of these crashes blur together and get forgotten in my mind. Some will stay with me until the day I no longer wear this uniform and beyond. 
It's easy to bet that most officers remember the first crash they ever responded to while on duty - this is true for me as well. 
The first crash I responded to involved a KDOT grader, which was driving east on U. S. 56, and a teen driver, who was driving fast and failed to recognize the slower, large equipment ahead.  The teen driver collided with the back of the road grader, and his pickup truck rolled multiple times.  Luckily he had his seat belt on. A medical helicopter landed on the scene and transported him to Wichita for treatment. 
The KDOT employee was very shook up.  He was questioning if he did anything wrong, and what could have been done to prevent the crash?  Simply put, the KDOT employee did not do anything wrong.  
This crash, the first one I ever investigated in a new career with the Kansas Highway Patrol, taught me several things that I still believe today. 
1) We might be the best drivers out there, doing nothing wrong, but sometimes other drivers put us in bad situations. This is why we must always wear our seat belts…to prepare for that unwanted, unexpected, not-your-fault situation, not knowing when it's going to play out.
2) When we drive, we must ensure that driving is the primary task at hand, limiting distractions that might take us away from the primary task. Eating, cellphones, talking with others, listening to the radio all move us further away from the focus needed when driving.
This crash occurred 18 years ago, and the lessons learned then are still true today.  

If drivers could see what we see

By Ross Weber
I am Ross Weber and I am the Hutchinson Branch Manager for APAC-Kansas, Inc. Shears Division.
Ross Weber
We spend a lot of time making our work zones safe. It is planned for in our pre-bid evaluations and followed up on throughout the project. We analyze how we can protect our employees from the public as well as how we can protect the public from us. When we see something in our plan isn’t working, we make changes to the situation.
Work zones are a change to the normal traffic pattern. We train our employees constantly about avoiding distractions while in the work zone. We have no training with the public.
We spend a lot of time in training discussing the distractions we see occurring with drivers in our work zone. A lot of people are looking at their phones or talking on their phones. I followed a man through a work zone last year that was watching a movie on his I-Pad. We see people that are asleep, others that are drunk. Imagine someone driving through your workplace watching a movie at 70 mph.
While construction workers are occasionally injured or even killed in work zone accidents, the vast majority of the serious injuries and all of the deaths I have witnessed in 31 years of construction involved the public.
It is devastating to us when our co-workers are injured at work or anywhere else. We work hard to prevent it. We have become adept at avoiding distracted drivers, we know they are there every day. Some of us have known each other and our families for years - it is personal when one of us is injured.
Equally devastating are the accidents involving the public; construction workers are the first responders at work zone accidents. We witness the destruction to vehicles and people that occur when people run into our equipment and each other. All too often we are the ones that administer first aid and comfort until EMS arrives. These accidents take a toll on us emotionally. While most of the time we don’t know the victims of the accidents, we know that like us, they have people expecting them to come home.
If people driving through our work zones could see what construction workers see, they would put down the phones, the I-Pads, the computers, hairbrushes, razors, cheeseburgers and anything else that distracts them and just drive their car.



My look on traffic control

By Derrick Shannon

I started working for KDOT in August of 2002 on the Garnett Area Crew and am now the 
Derrick Shannon
Area Superintendent in Iola.

The first time I was assigned to flag was on K-68. The crew was putting a hand rail back on a bridge that a car had taken off.  Back then, we used three signs and no cones.  It took about 10 minutes to put up the traffic control.  I was handed the paddle and radio and told to stop traffic.  I got right to work. The morning went fine with cars and trucks stopping as they should.  Just after I went back to my flagging position after my second break of the day, a big yellow dump truck flew past me. The driver did not even touch the brake till he was all the way past me. 
Another close call was just a few years ago when I was the Engineering Technician Specialist on the Iola Subarea crew.  We were patching concrete on U.S. 169. The crew members had the traffic control in place and were using the new automated flaggers. I was running the controls and had just closed the northbound flagger to stop traffic. A car was coming into the work zone and was about at the sign that says do not pass. The driver drove right around the automated flagger, came right up to where I was running the remote and told me the flagger was broke because the arm just fell down right in front of them.
I have only been involved in one accident in a work zone in my 14-year career with KDOT and lucky for me and the crew, no one was hurt. It happened on U.S. 54 when I was an Equipment Operator. A semi-truck slammed into the back of a pickup truck that was stopped at the flagger. Lucky for everyone involved the semi turned into the ditch. The pickup truck that was hit only went about 50 feet forward and the flagger was able to get out of the way.
I really want to thank all of the Kansas Department of Transportation people that worked so hard at coming up with the set-up for traffic control that we use today. I believe the workers are better protected now from distracted drivers that they come across on the roads.
I am reminded of these times when I hear crews complain about having to spend so much time setting out 30 lead-in cones, 10 signs, six cone tapers at both ends, a crash attenuator, a buffer zone and a pilot car. I just let them know how much safer they are nowadays than what we were in previous years.