Tennessee Department of Transportation project manager Jason Farmer has seen it all when observing motorists driving through road construction zones — cell phone calls, texting and make-up application to name a few.
“The biggest thing is people not paying attention to their surroundings,” Farmer said.
TDOT wants to draw more attention to that problem this week, which is National Work Zone Awareness Week.
“We are heading into the busiest construction time of the year, and there will be hundreds of active work zones across Tennessee,” said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer in a news release. “Reducing speeds, staying alert and exercising caution is the best way to ensure workers and motorists stay safe on our roadways.”
Road construction workers on a local project know all too well the dangers. Contracted by TDOT, a work crew from Summers Taylor lost an employee earlier this year on the Tenn. Highway 75 project.
It happened Feb. 9 shortly after 3 p.m. Michael Johnson, 49, of Hampton, was working at the site and was struck by a vehicle.
Johnson was carrying a 15-foot length of pipe across the highway near Sam Gammon Road when a driver hit him.
Johnson died a short time later.
“Before I actually worked in a work zone myself I really didn’t think about it much,” Farmer said. “Then I realized how dangerous it is. It’s fresh on our minds how dangerous our work is.”
Two TDOT workers were also killed in work zones elsewhere in the state, according to a department news release.
There were a total of 15 people killed in work zones last year in Tennessee. Of that number, 12 were either drivers or vehicle passengers. The other three were construction workers.
TDOT has lost 108 employees in the line of duty, according to spokesman Mark Nagi.
Lighting at state transportation offices in Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga will be orange during the evening hours this week.
Orange is the color of signs in road work zone areas.
TDOT produced an information video, available at http://youtu.be/j8cC9l3RFpM, about work zone safety for motorists.
Farmer has a few suggestions for motorists who drive through work zones.
“If they see the (caution) lights going, move over or slow down. Pay attention when they see the orange signs up. When they get into areas like that, don’t answer the phone, don’t text, don’t put on make up. If you see a flagman, watch for them to give you directions,” he said.
Farmer said there are three road construction zones in Washington County right now. One is the Highway 75/Airport Parkway project, the second is the State Route 34 widening project and the newest is the widening project on State Route 36 that extends from Boones Creek to Highway 75.