State promotes worker safety with traveling memorial

Less than four miles away from where crews are working on the Montgomery Pike resurfacing and safety improvement project along Route 15, the state Department of Transportation gathered Monday to honor workers killed in work zones throughout the state and create awareness on work zone safety.

“We, as a department, want everyone to go home safely everyday, not just our workers,” said Brian Hendrickson, PennDOT district safety coordinator, during the news conference, which kicked of National Work Zone Safety Week.

The PennDOT traveling memorial with orange and white hard hats atop 84 crosses – one for each state transportation worker killed while working – gave a visual for the event.

“It can be hectic – that’s the word I would use,” said David Wise, project manager for the Route 15 work, on his experiences working beside ongoing traffic.

Hendrickson reported that there were 1,800 traffic collisions in the state last year, with 77.5 percent of them coming in long-term work areas, such as Route 15. He added that there are “thousands of people” affected by the 84 crosses displayed in the memorial, as family and friends are left with the loss of their loved one.

“That’s the thing 84 is a number, but there’s a person behind that number,” Hendrickson said.

The memorial was created in 1996 in Bradford County after a flagger was killed, according to David Thompson, PennDOT safety press officer. And as work continues along Route 15, Wise said motorists should be alert of the use of flaggers and a lower speed limit.

“It’s going to keep everyone safe. We’ve already had rear-end collisions because of people speeding,” he said.

Hendrickson added that motorists always should follow work areas’ posted speed limits. The speed limit along Route 15 near South Williamsport has been reduced to 40 mph.

State Police Lt. Todd Weltmer said officers will continue to patrol the areas to make sure drivers are practicing safe-driving habits.

Besides wearing reflective gear to stick out to drivers, Wise said workers watch out for each other and report any unsafe practices. He added that workers sometimes get used to working alongside traffic and become complacent.

The main piece of advice always is to stay alert, in case motorists aren’t paying attention.

“I tell my people, ‘Don’t go out in traffic unless you have to.’ Be safe, be alert,” Wise said.

Hendrickson asked the public to always turn on headlights, avoid distractions and “expect the unexpected” while driving through work zones.

He added that if both workers and drivers do their parts, it will decrease the possibility of traffic collisions in work zones, noting “we’re all in this together.”

The memorial will be on display at PennDOT’s stockpile along Route 15 in Clinton Township throughout today.