Friday, April 30, 2021

Work zone safety takes a team

KDOT and contractors are keenly aware of the value of safety on our highway projects. As we have read in previous posts here, there are countless firsthand accounts of accidents and near misses in our work zones across the state. I believe we could greatly reduce these numbers if everyone is committed to being on the same team – KDOT, contractors and the traveling public.

Tim Garhardt and co-workers.
As I was finishing my degree at Kansas State University, I was fortunate to get connected to a summer position with KDOT at the Junction City office. The assignment there was an interstate reconstruction project on I-70 that included almost 10 miles of removal and replacement of the pavement on both lanes in one construction season.  The traffic was detoured head-to-head on one lane, while the other side was reconstructed. A big project with a challenging schedule! It was early on here that I saw firsthand the value of teamwork and the challenges that come with different perspectives and focus.

Often times a contractor finds their primary focus being the project schedule and trying to get ahead, to maintain the plan or sometimes to catch back up to the plan. This is inherent to the nature of a low bid process where the estimated production rates and durations yield the costs that are incorporated in the unit prices and the overall bid strategy. This focus can, and often does, clash with the priorities of the owner’s engineers and inspectors responsible for these projects. This big challenging project on I-70 was one of those that had a clash of priorities. 

When classes started again in the fall, I was again fortunate in having the opportunity to go to work for the contractor on this same project as they moved their project engineer out to oversee the paving operation and I backfilled some of his responsibilities. A view from both sides on the same project.

As I reflect today, this unique opportunity to see a project from both an owner’s view as well as the contractor’s side, was foundational for me in recognizing the value of working together and truly partnering toward a common goal.  At the end of every project is some form of recognition of accomplishment. For many projects we point to the quality, the good ride or the timely completion. I believe the projects that we can be most proud of are the ones that were completed safely. We may have had our disagreements along the way, but in the end, we built the project and we delivered it SAFELY. 

We need another teammate for success on our roadways and reduce the number of accidents and near misses – the traveling public. It is unlikely that we will have the chance to bring this teammate to a project meeting, talk with them face to face or celebrate the project’s success with them. So how do we get them on board? How do we get them to focus on this priority as we do? 

This is where we partner with our efforts to provide a safe work zone every day. KDOT and contractors work together to provide adequate oversight and implementation of the traffic control plan with qualified personnel and quality signs and devices. We work together to make sure that these work zones have adequate reflectivity at night and correct all types of deficiencies in a timely manner.  We work together to provide schedule information, phase changes and traffic impacts to the appropriate partners to get the word out to this third teammate. Through news briefs, social media and other methods, we let the public know what to expect so they can plan accordingly. Then their part is to pay attention in our work zone, put away the distractions and focus on safety as we do. 

Building our projects as a team allows all of us to deliver a project safely.

Tim Gerhardt is President of Koss Construction Co. in Topeka

Thursday, April 29, 2021

The sound that makes highway workers immediately react

Paul Thomas
Hello, my name is Paul Thomas and I have been a state employee now for over 13 years. I started as an Equipment Operator, and I have been the KDOT Safety Specialist in south central Kansas for about two years.   

Work zone safety wasn’t something that I thought much about before working here, but now I know it’s importance. Unfortunately, I had several close calls while working on the highways and I am going tell you about an incident that happened when I first started with KDOT.

That day’s plan was to repair the driving lane that was breaking up on the interstate at an overpass where the concrete and the asphalt met. A crew went out and set up traffic control around the construction location with the crew working in the driving lane. For the most part, traffic was going along nicely, minus a few drivers ignoring the fact that the speed limit had been reduced, which is not uncommon.

On a work zone set-up like we were in, there are not flaggers, so you don’t have those other individuals watching your back. You must rely on your senses and everyone else in the work zone to keep an eye out for each other. There is nothing more eerie than having your back to the traffic in a work zone and feeling the wind off the larger vehicles that come passing through as you are trying to complete your task.

On this particular day, everyone was working and all was going well when we all heard the “sound” – the sound of a traffic cone getting hit by a vehicle. Anyone who has worked in a work zone for any length of time would know that sound as soon as they heard it. So when this sound was heard, it triggered a highway worker to immediately yell for everyone to get out of the way and take cover.

As I was running to safety, I turned to look, only to see a driver had failed to slow down for whatever reason, and due to other traffic was forced to crash through the cones headed for the work zone we were working in. Luckily, no one was hurt because the driver did finally make it back into the directed lane.

But had it not been for that “sound” and the watchful eyes of other employees, things could have had a totally different outcome. This was just one of many close calls that happen out there every day. Most of the time, no one hears about these incidents because fortunately, no one is hurt. But there are times when something serious has happened either to a highway worker, the driver or both.

Hopefully, National Work Zone Awareness Week helps bring to light the kinds of things that can happen in work zones so that everyone is aware of the possible dangers out there on the roads. It is my hope that after stories are shared this week, there is an appreciation for work zone safety, and it becomes important to everyone. In the end, it’s all about saving lives.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Scan the area every 3 to 5 seconds


Hi, I am Tim Micek, the Subarea Supervisor at the KDOT Goodland office, and I have worked for KDOT for 21 years now. I have seen several crashes and incidents on the highway. There is one incident that I will never forget.

We were fixing guardrail on I-70. It was the end of the day and we had just finished up and were picking up traffic control.  We were getting close to the end of the taper picking up our cones.  We were using the 36-inch cones with the 6-pound weight at that time. 

The arrow board was still on with its message, directing traffic into the passing lane. I was at the last cone near the arrow board and reached down and picked it up. On my way up, it slipped out of my hand and proceeded to roll out in the driving lane. I bent down quick in hopes to grab it and WHOOSH!! I felt something bump the top of my hat and knock it off my head. 

I looked up and a motorhome WHOOSHED by, running over the cone. It was still in the driving lane and the driver failed to move over. Boy! That day was an eye opener for me and how dangerous it was working on the highway.

Ever since that day, I decided that whenever I am on the highway that I would scan the area every three to five seconds to look for hazards. Had I have scanned the driving lane to see if traffic were there, I would not have had this close call. I had only been working for KDOT for probably less than five years - it sure made me respect the highway.

Since I made the choice to implement the scan method in my everyday life, I have been able to be more proactive and see potential crashes or incidents before they happen and get out of the way of them. I even find myself doing this in parking lots when I’m off of work, and let me tell you, it has saved me several times.

Highway workers, whether KDOT or private contractors, are in a whole new and different environment compared to the average person. I have seen a lot of people (including myself) who get upset at people who do not move over. This may be a legitimate reason to get mad, but I try not to. Think about it for a second. We all know what it feels like to have someone fly by us at 90 mph, but the traveling public has no idea at all. They do not know that when they went by, that they about knocked you off your feet. They are oblivious to it.  We cannot control them. All we can do is control how we react. And if you choose to get upset and mad, that only makes your day more difficult.

If we could put every person traveling the highway at centerline just one day and they could see what we go through, then things may change.  We all know this is impossible to do, so highway workers need to implement ways and follow guidelines of being safe in work zones.

Thank you









Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Phones Down. Eyes on the Road.


Troy Dunnaway
By Troy Dunnaway

I’ve been with the Kansas Turnpike for almost 28 years doing roadway maintenance. I’ve seen my fair share of distracted drivers and had some close calls on the road.

Last summer, I was with my crew picking up cones after a lane closure near mile marker 208 in Lawrence. There wasn’t a lot of traffic at the time, but a good flow of cars passing by. One of my guys was at the back of the truck picking cones up while I kept watch.

A white truck approached us and veered closer to the white line. I slowed down and prepared to honk to get the driver’s attention while my co-worker turned his body away from the road. Suddenly, the driver of the white truck struck my side mirror and completely destroyed it. It all happened in a matter of seconds. If our truck had been any closer to the white line or the white truck crossed the white line by another 6 inches, he would have actually hit the vehicle and could have seriously injured myself or my co-worker.

I couldn’t see the driver’s face, but I could tell he was looking down at something. I’m guessing he was on his phone and not paying attention. What made the situation worse is the driver of the white truck didn’t even stop after the accident. He kept going down the Turnpike and most likely exited a few miles down the road.

We do a lot to prepare drivers to enter a work zone — lots of signage, lights, cones, barrier trucks. It’s frustrating to see people still coming through work zones and reading something on their phone. It takes a quarter of a second to go off the road or cross the white line.

The bottom line is, get off your phone completely when going through a work zone. Pause your call, put your phone down. Any distraction can potentially cause someone injuries. My biggest fear is having to contact an employee’s loved one because there’s been an accident.


Troy Dunnaway is the Structures Foreman for the Kansas Turnpike Authority in Lawrence.


Monday, April 26, 2021

My mistake in a dire situation

Hello, I am Doug Vogel, the District Superintendent in District Four, which covers the
southeast portion of Kansas. I have been the District Superintendent since 1999. Overall, I have had the opportunity to work within District Four for 34 years.

Doug Vogel
While working for KDOT in multiple positions, I have experienced a lot of good and a lot of not-so-good occurrences. In 1997, I was a new Subarea Supervisor in Area Three, which covers Elk, Wilson, Chautauqua and Montgomery counties. That Subarea office sits right off U.S. 75. I remember that particular day was mid-summer, around 5:30 p.m. The crew had already left for the day, and I stayed behind finishing up some paperwork.

As I was getting ready to leave, I heard a loud ‘BOOM,’ to the south of the office. My curiosity led me to hopping into a state pickup to try and find the cause of the noise. About a mile or so into my drive, I start seeing smoke. As I drove closer towards the smoke, I noticed a chair sitting in the southbound lane. Someone was sitting in the seat, still buckled in. 

I drove closer and stopped the truck about 20 yards from the person. I angled the pickup to cover him from traffic view. Nearby, I noticed there was a conversion van, or what was left of it, 50 yards to the west along the fence line. I shifted my eyesight south. There was a semi angled in the ditch. The rest of it was on the shoulder.

As I exited the pickup, I looked up the hill. I saw a car coming towards me from the north. When the car got closer to me, it stopped around 50 yards from my parked pickup. I approached him, and I asked if he could block traffic further down the highway, call 911 and not let anyone through. As he drove off, a second vehicle approached. I asked that vehicle to stop traffic coming from the north. He backed up, and he started blocking traffic as well.

I started walking towards the man in the captain’s chair, sitting in the highway. Unfortunately, he was deceased. I knew I needed more KDOT assistance to secure this site before going to the van. I went around the front of pickup, which was pointing to the centerline of the highway, to get my cell phone from the front seat. I remember looking forward only. A car that was not supposed to be there raced by and the mirror of his car hit my vest as it went by me. My vest slapped my side and left a nice welt, which later turn into a bruise.

I do not think the car ever saw me. If they did see me, they chose to just continue speeding down the highway. I never saw the brake lights lit. If I had taken one more step, my career would have ended a lot sooner.

I always considered myself to be a safe person - one who knows better to look twice when working on the highway. That late afternoon, I made a mistake that could have cost me my life. I let the stress of the situation distract me from being more aware of my surroundings.

No matter how safe you may think you are in a situation, you need to always be alert to your surroundings, no matter how dire a situation might be.


Friday, April 23, 2021

National Work Zone Awareness Week, April 26-30

The Topeka City Hall was lit in orange in 2020.
National Work Zone Awareness Week starts next Monday. As part of the safety campaign,
there will be stories all next week from highway workers and contractor employees on this blog series. Their experiences help illustrate why work zone safety is so imperative.

There is also information on KDOT’s Go Orange page - including videos, stat sheets, coloring pages, public service announcements and more. Many locations are going orange as well to show their support for highway workers. Check it all out here.  

It's important to be safe when traveling through highway construction zones all year long, but this week focuses raising awareness and teaching people ways they can improve safety. Below are a few questions to help you learn more about the need for safety in work zones.

1. Who is most likely to be injured in a work zone crash?

 Nearly 85-90 percent of the time, it’s the motorists. Driving safely in work zone protects you as well as the highway workers.


2. On a 25-mile trip, if you drive 65 mph instead of 55 mph, how much time will you save?     

Four minutes. And work zones are always much shorter than that – remember, a minute or two is not worth risking injury or death.


3. Pretend it’s Sunday and there’s no work taking place in a highway work zone. Are the fines still doubled?            

Yes, fines are always doubled in work zones.


4. What color is associated with work zones?

Orange.  So when you see orange signs and cones, please slow down and pay attention.


5. What can you do to increase safety in work zones?

Pay attention, follow traffic control, don’t speed, expect delays, allow ample space between you and the car in front, change lanes when directed to do so, and be patient.


Thursday, October 22, 2020

Distracted driving leading cause of pedestrian-involved collisions

Whether a motorist or a pedestrian, all road users share the same responsibility of keeping themselves, their passengers and all other road users  safe while driving and interacting with traffic. Driving larger, heavier vehicles requires extreme caution as the risks associated with these vehicles are greater – causing damage to property and injuries or death.

Over the past decade, distracted driving has become one of the leading causes of vehicle crashes on our nation’s roads. Researchers at the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, a non-profit representing all 50 state highway safety offices, are concerned that distracted drivers are leading to more pedestrian-involved collisions.

Any action that takes attention away from the essential task of safe driving can be dangerous, including talking to others in the car or on the phone, adjusting the radio, and eating and drinking. And, sending a text message while in a vehicle on a public road is illegal in Kansas, even while stopped at a stop light or sign. Violation of this law can result in fines, suspension of driving privileges, court costs and attorney’s fees, and increased insurance rates. 

Any distracted driving can lead to a reckless driving charge and, if the incident also leads to the death of another person, vehicular homicide charges. 

Driving distracted is just not worth it. Lives are on the line and the consequences could stay with you for many years to come. 

Pay attention, because at the end of the day, whether we walk, ride, drive -- we are all pedestrians and its up to use to help keep each other safe.