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NAPA attends NWZAW kickoff event on I-695 overpass in Maryland

Work zone awareness has taken on a more somber and personal note in Maryland in the past year or so.

The traffic cones draped in black ribbons surrounding the stage for the National Work Zone Awareness Week kickoff event honor 14 lives lost since the start of 2023 in Maryland — stark reminders of what’s at stake for roadside workers each day they go to work.

The traveling event, led this year by the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration ​​(MDOT SHA), was hosted on an overpass overlooking Interstate 695 near its Interstate 70 juncture; not far from where six workers died on March 23, 2023 when a speeding motorist entered the work zone.

During the ceremony, several speakers noted other instances of roadside worker fatalities from across Maryland, including the six who died when the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed, and two roadside workers shared their own testimonials of “near hits” on roadside job sites.

NAPA Government Affairs Director Mitch Baldwin, NAPA President
and CEO Audrey Copeland, and Maryland Asphalt
Association President Tim Smith attended the NWZAW event.

After welcoming remarks from Maryland Transportation Builders and Materials Association President and CEO Mike Sakata, Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said the state’s roadside worker death toll revealed a lot about the inherent dangers of road construction.

“Each incident is unique,” Wiedefeld said. “But they all remind us of the challenges men and women face every day as they work to improve our highway system.”

He then asked for a moment of silence to remember those transportation workers who had been lost since March 2023.

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Associate Administrator for Operations Martin Knopp was joined by speakers from across Maryland state agencies, many of whom identified speeding as one of the key factors in many of these work zone incursions.

“We can and must take every opportunity to remind the traveling public of the need to be careful when traveling through the work zones,” Knopp said. “As construction season ramps up this year, we hope drivers will slow down, stay alert and undistracted, and help protect the people who work to build and maintain our roadways. The lives of our community members and construction workers are far more valuable and precious than a few minutes that might be saved by trying to get there faster than what the posted safe speed limit is.”

MDOT SHA Administrator Will Pines noted that the state has already implemented several measures recommended by the Maryland Work Zone Safety Group, which was chaired by Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller, who was a traffic engineer before taking public office.

“We’re closing additional lanes in some work zones to add more buffer between our crews and traffic,” Pines said. “We’re working closely with our partners at the Maryland State Police to increase speed enforcement in our work zones. Our work zones are filled with mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, close friends, and dear neighbors. They’re building a better, safer, world-class highway system and providing access and opportunity to every single user. The highway is their office: Protecting them must be a priority for us.”

Pines introduced Robert Lewis, a maintenance worker, who told about a recent close call he and his employee, Steven Cook, had when a truck entered the work zone and his crew came within seconds and inches from injury or worse.

“I wish I could stand here and say this kind of danger is rare, but it’s not,” Lewis said. “In fact, I could spend the next hour telling you story after story of all the close calls that we experience. It can’t be said enough: Pay attention when you’re driving. Work zones are everywhere so every day when you see one, slow down.”

Secretary of the Maryland Police Col. Roland Butler, Jr. reiterated that these roadside worker deaths can be avoided.

“In 2018 to 2022, Maryland reported almost 7,200 work zone crashes injuring close to 3,100 people; 44 of those people lost their lives,” Butler said. “As we gather here today, we must highlight that many of these crashes, injuries and deaths were not inevitable. They were preventable.”

MDOT Motor Vehicle Administrator Chrissy Nizer announced the launch of a public outreach program that will include Maryland sports greats Cal Ripken Jr., Adley Rutschman, and Torrey Smith. She also introduced Lt. Gov Miller, who discussed the actions the General Assembly had taken to shore up work zone safety in the state.

“But these laws alone will not do the job on their own,” Lt. Gov. Miller said. “Every one of us has a part in ensuring the safety and well-being of one another. To underscore this, Gov. (Wes) Moore has proclaimed April 15th through the 19th as Work Zone Awareness Week in Maryland. Gov. Moore and I are committed to ensuring safety of all Marylanders. We call upon every citizen to do their part to keep each other safe, too. Avoid distractions and reduce speeds in construction work zones. The lives of our highway workers, and countless other lives depend on you, me and everyone in between.”

The event concluded with a Unity Ride: upwards of 350 trucks across various industries riding beneath the overpass with a police escort as a statement on work zone safety.

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