State DOT Employee Deaths Underscore Risks of Working on Active Traffic Lanes

AASHTO Journal, 18 March 2016

The deaths in the past week of two workers patching potholes in New Mexico and of a Georgia emergency road assistance employee who had been struck by a vehicle last August are recent tragedies that highlight the risks facing transportation system employees in active traffic lanes.

News reports said a March 14 accident that killed the two employees of the New Mexico Department of Transportation occurred as they were repairing potholes on State Road 120 in Harding County when a driver crashed his vehicle into their NMDOT vehicle, which in turn struck them.

NMDOT Secretary Tom Church issued a statement identifying the employees as Anthony Rivera and David Eggert. “Both men were dedicated and hardworking members of our team, and we will miss them very much. Our sympathies and prayers are with their families and friends as they grieve,” Church said.

workzonesign.jpgHe added: “The men and women of NMDOT have difficult jobs and are at risk every day while performing their duties. This tragedy reminds us to reflect on their efforts and to recognize their dedication and commitment while on the job. We will continue to do all that we can to keep our workers safe.”

In Georgia on March 15, DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry issued a statement announcing the death of Moses King, one of GDOT’s “highway emergency response operators” in a program known as HERO for its acronym.

Moses had joined the agency in September 2014 as a HERO trainee, McMurry said, and was promoted in January 2015 to HERO Operator 1.

McMurry said that in the early morning hours of Aug. 1, “while this dedicated employee worked to protect accident victims he himself became a victim and was struck by a motorist, was severely injured and has now lost his life.”

He added: “This sad occasion is a profound loss to the Georgia DOT family, to the Atlanta region and the emergency response communities who place themselves in harm’s way every day to ensure the traveling public’s safety. Moses King was committed to making a difference on our roadways and in the lives of those who travel those roadways.”

McMurry also said that since Moses’ was struck two other HERO operators had been injured while assisting others along the highways, and they are recovering.

He urged motorists to “buckle up, stay off the phone and drive alert, not impaired. Driving alert could have saved the life of Moses King and it just might save your life or the life of someone that you love.”

The deaths came in the same week that the Federal Highway Administration issued a final regulation to set performance management measures that state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations must use to track progress under the Highway Safety Improvement Program.

State DOTs and a number of other agencies combine throughout the year on efforts to urge motorists to drive more safely and to avoid distractions or other unsafe behavior when moving through road construction areas where workers are highly vulnerable.

Each year the transportation industry observes a “Work Zone Awareness Week” to try to heighten driver safety through a number of events focused on travel through work zones. This year’s is April 11-15.

There are also various efforts to honor those who are killed or injured through such accidents, and to provide for their children.

The Transportation Development Foundation of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association operates a “Lanford Family Highway Worker Memorial Scholarship Program.” This year it is taking applications until April 8 for higher-education scholarships to children of highway workers who have been killed or disabled while working in roadway construction zones.

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