Thursday, April 27, 2023

Work zone safety always top priority for father of two

By Doug Adamson

Starting a new job is tough enough. Imagine being on the job for two months when your work truck is hit by an inattentive driver.

Justen Merrick, based out of our Lakewood maintenance shop, was with a team working at night to repair the driving surface of Interstate 5 in Tumwater. Merrick was behind the wheel of a protective vehicle called a truck mounted attenuator or TMA. The rig helps protect his team members who work in front of the vehicle. That’s when he noticed a speeding vehicle coming up behind him. After flashing the TMA’s brake lights to no avail, Merrick hit the gas to try to lessen the impact. The oncoming car made no attempt to stop.

Justen Merrick, his wife Aleah, and their children
Tristen and Westlynn

Luckily, Justen escaped serious injury but was left with strains and sprains.

The scary and completely preventable situation didn’t stop Merrick. The Olympia resident and father of two children is back at work. He also is the chair of his local WSDOT safety committee.

“We appreciate when people pay attention and give us room,” Merrick said. “But we also regularly see so many people on their phone.”

Truck mounted attenuators help lessen the impact of a collision. After the collision,
they often can’t be salvaged.

He continues to be concerned about drivers who are not paying attention.

“Many don’t know what it is like to work alongside the highway as cars speed past you,” he said.

Our work trucks use these electronic reader boards to signal driver's need to be aware and alert.

Merrick would also like people to know about our pickup trucks with electronic reader boards. You'll see four lights activated in each corner. It’s our equivalent of a vehicle’s hazard lights. It serves as a heads up that we’re working in the area. Please remember to move over and slow down. It’s the law.

Also, we will pursue damages to drivers at fault for a collision. The average cost to repair the collision dampening system of a TMA averages $30,000.

It is an important reminder that people working on the highway are there to fix it. They deserve to go home at the end of their shift so they can be with their families.