Thursday, October 13, 2022

Increase in work zone crashes leads to safety adjustments to protect workers, drivers

By Mark Krulish

Just after midnight on Oct. 7, our maintenance crews were sweeping the shoulders on southbound I-5 near 56th Street in Tacoma when a driver hit our truck mounted attenuator (TMA) that was in place protecting our workers. Soon after, another TMA we moved into place to protect the collision scene was also hit. A third vehicle then tried to cut through the scene to take the 56th street ramp and hit one of the cars involved in the first crash.

We are fortunate that neither of the workers inside the TMAs were seriously hurt and that none of our other workers were hit. Road workers have families, they have friends and they deserve to get home safely each and every night. One of the trucks did sustain significant damage while the other had minor damage. And this type of incident has become more common lately.

A rise in nighttime work zone crashes – like this one recently on I-5 in Tacoma – means we’re making some safety adjustments to help keep our workers and drivers safe.

Our highway maintenance crews are on the road just about every weekday of the year, both day and night. The vast majority of collisions in our work zones happen at night, with lower visibility once the sun sets combined with a rise in inebriated and drowsy drivers putting road workers at greater risk.

This is one of the reasons you may see our workers around more than usual during the daytime. While we recognize that this may affect traffic, nothing is more important than the safety of our workers and the traveling public, and we need to take steps to help protect them.

While our busy construction season is coming to an end, we do a lot of maintenance work in the winter, including road and guardrail repair, clearing debris from drainage systems and removing tree limbs so they don’t interfere with power lines during winter storms. In the past we’ve done some of that work at night. More will be happening in daylight now as drivers are generally more alert, and our crews and work zone signage are easier to see.

Drivers may see more roadwork during the day when it is typically safer for both workers and drivers.

That doesn’t mean we’re eliminating nighttime work altogether, but we need to adjust how we do things to increase safety.

This may include:

  • Reducing the number of times our crews are exposed to traffic. This includes bundling various repairs into one job. For example, if we have to fix a guardrail, we may also do work like crack sealing and litter or graffiti removal at the same time to avoid having a second work zone.
  • Closing more lanes or creating a longer work zone area to create a larger buffer for crews
  • Using additional safety equipment on the roads, such as temporary portable rumble strips and zipper barriers

A good example of this is the repair job we’ve had on I-5 in southern Thurston County over the past couple weeks. Crews have been repairing cracks and restriping between lanes on the highway. We’ve had two lanes closed on short sections between Maytown and the Thurston/Lewis county line. We’re doing this during the day because of the increase in dangerous driver behavior, particularly on I-5 at night. Crews will return to the southbound side of I-5 next week from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17. This may mean more congestion around work zones and longer delays – but we simply must take steps to improve worker and traveler safety.

And as you are driving through, please slow down and keep an eye out for our workers and work zones. Please make sure you give them enough room, don’t drink and drive and be sure you’re alert and focused. You play a part in their safety, and we need your help.