[Caltrans] – Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol and construction industry contractors are calling on all Californians for their help in the ongoing effort to make highway work zones safer for workers by moving over one lane, if it’s safe to do so, or slowing down when passing a maintenance or construction crew or emergency personnel stopped on the side of the freeway.
In July alone, six motorists and contracted workers were killed – including three by drunk drivers – and multiple others injured in highway work zones.
“Every day, highway workers put their lives in danger just by going to work,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. “These tragic incidents are sobering reminders that motorists must never drink and drive, and we all must do everything we can to keep our highways safe.”
“Highway workers and emergency personnel risk their lives every day while helping to make our roads safer,” said CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow. “We will continue to work with Caltrans to make highway work zones as safe as possible. However, even with appropriate safety precautions, we need the public’s help to exercise common sense when driving and to refrain from driving impaired, speeding and other distracting behaviors that can lead to driver error.”
Caltrans meets regularly with contractors to discuss mutual safety concerns to make work zones safer, and Caltrans and the CHP work together to test the effectiveness of having multiple CHP vehicles in construction zones to monitor driver safety and enforce the speed limit and the Move Over Law. When feasible, Caltrans allows an extra buffer lane between workers and vehicles in specific construction zones, so that workers previously separated only by orange cones have more space between themselves and oncoming vehicles.
“Over 700,000 men and women make their living in California’s construction industry. Their livelihoods should never be a life or death proposition,” said Tom Holsman, chief executive officer for the Associated General Contractors of California (AGC). “AGC has always been a strong and proud partner with public agencies as they deliver the much needed transportation projects the public demands. We need, more than ever, to work with our partners and have an informed traveling public to keep drunk drivers off our highways and out of work zones,” Holsman added.
“The Southern California Contractors Association (SCCA) is a strong partner with Caltrans in its efforts to improve worker protection on our job sites,” said Paul Von Berg, SCCA interim executive vice president and a 45-year veteran of highway construction work. “Our view is best expressed by one of our members, Mike Powell, president of Powell Constructors Inc., who recently wrote: ‘Our workers spend their days and many nights working adjacent to some of the busiest and most congested highways in the world. Every day there is an imminent threat of an incident or accident in both our permanent and temporary lane closures. While dealing with reduced working hours and a significant increase in the amount of work being performed in extended closure windows, we strive every day to train, remind and implement safe traffic control practices to minimize our exposure to the dynamic environment of the highway system and its users.’”
Among those killed include:
Regan Johnson, a 24-year-old Caltrans contractor’s employee, was killed July 11 by a suspected drunk driver while working on Highway 99 in Fresno.
A motorcyclist died on July 18 when he clipped a “road closed” sign near a work zone on Highway 49 in Tuolumne County, causing him to veer off the highway directly into a telephone pole.
Two contract workers, 56-year-old Ramon Lopez and 58-year-old Ricardo Zamora, died July 22 when they were both struck by the same vehicle following a collision between two suspected drunk drivers in separate vehicles in a highway work zone on Interstate 405 in Torrance.
A minivan struck a contractor’s truck as it was picking up cones in a construction zone on Interstate 10 in El Monte on July 24, killing the van’s driver and his dog. Both of the Caltrans contract workers in the truck were injured.
A truck driver failed to slow down in a construction zone on Highway 99 in Bakersfield on July 25 and was killed after colliding with a dump truck.
In Redding, Caltrans tested temporary rumble strips in the areas leading up to work zones, and the results are encouraging: 46 percent of traffic slowed down. The tests are now expanding statewide.
Highway construction and maintenance work is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. Since the 1920s, 178 Caltrans employees have died while on the job.