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Work zone safety touted at kickoff event in nation’s capital

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Government officials and transportation industry leaders stand In the shadow of the Frederick Douglas Memorial Bridge in Washington during an event designed to re-emphasize the importance of roadway work zone safety. (Courtesy: AASHTO JOURNAL)

By Sean Kilcarr, AASHTO Senior Editor

WASHINGTON — In the shadow of the Frederick Douglas Memorial Bridge – Washington, D.C.’s largest transportation infrastructure project to date – federal, state and local officials gathered with other transportation industry representatives to re-emphasize the importance of roadway work zone safety, especially since 799 motor vehicle drivers, passengers, bicyclists, and pedestrians were killed in work zone crashes in 2017, which includes 132 highway workers.

From a trucking industry perspective, there’s certainly cause for alarm.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said in 2017, 30.4% of fatal work zone crashes involved at least one large truck. The percentage of all fatal crashes that involved at least one truck was 12.4%.

The plan is to replace the nearly 70-year-old functionally obsolete bridge and the nearby I-295 and Suitland Parkway interchange with a more modern, wider, and safer roadway, according to the District Department of Transportation.

The bridge project – expected to open for use in 2021 – will feature the kind of work zones that can prove challenging to drivers and others during the spring and summer road construction season.

That’s the underlying reason for Newsal Work Zone Awareness Week, being held April 8-12; to reduce fatalities and serious injuries in work zones by encouraging everyone to slow down and pay attention.

The event – held in the nation’s capital on April 9 and hosted by DDOT – served as the national “kickoff event” for the 2019 safety campaign; a campaign put together through a partnership of the Federal Highway Administration, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the American Traffic Safety Services Association, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and other groups including the American Road & Transportation Builders Association and Associated General Contractors of America, plus individual state departments of transportation.

“Safety is everyone’s responsibility,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in a statement. “So please focus 100 percent on driving, be sober, be considerate of road workers and other road users and, please, obey the posted speed limits.”

The kickoff ceremony featured a number of speakers, as well as the ATSSA’s “Memorial Wall,” created to honor highway workers, motorists, and others who lost their lives in work zone crashes over the last two decades.

“As the weather gets warmer, highway workers are heading outdoors to improve our roads and keep us moving,” said Brandye Hendrickson, FHWA’s deputy administrator, during a speech at the event. “We all need to do our part and drive carefully, so that we can help keep everyone safe wherever construction is under way.”

She told the AASHTO Journal that the annual Newsal Work Zone Awareness campaign is a “good reminder” to everyone using the roads – motorists, commercial truck and bus operators, bicyclists, and even pedestrians – to “take ownership” of the work zone safety issue.

“We can get a little lax over a long winter,” she said. “But we can’t afford to do that when work zones start popping up very frequently at this time year to fix and improve the roads.”

Hendrickson also noted that, since 2005, FHWA has awarded more than $50 million in grants to develop work zone safety guidance and training and support the Newsal Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse – a database dedicated to providing the transportation construction industry and the general public with comprehensive information on ways to improve motorist, worker, and pedestrian safety in roadway work zones.

Jeff Marootian, DDOT’s director, told the AASHTO Journal that not only are projects like the Frederick Douglas Memorial Bridge aimed at making the roads safe “for everyone that uses them” regardless of mode of travel but “they need to be safe for the men and women working on them as well.”

Guillermo Rivera, commander-special operations for the Metropolitan Police Department, pointed out that as work zones alter traffic patterns, motorists in particular need to use extra caution when navigating them in order to ensure the safety of workers, bicyclists and pedestrians in and around those areas.

Lyndsay Sutton – whose father, Steven Morgan, died in a November 2011 accident while working on I-75 in Florida – emphasized that same point. “Fixing potholes and lane markings make roadway travel safe,” she said. “Construction may be a nuisance, but remember, highway workers are out here for us.”

“Every day, in highway work zones from coast to coast, state DOT employees put their lives on the line making communities safer, stronger, and more efficient,” added Jim Tymon, AASHTO’s executive director, in a statement. “Motorists owe it to those workers, their families, and the rest of the traveling public, to stay alert in work zones so that everyone gets home safely at the end of the day.”

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House panel targets design changes to improve road safety

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House T and I Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio says the U.S. has failed to invest in lowering deaths on the nation's highways. (Courtesy: HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES)

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit delved into ways to improve roadway safety during a recent hearing and roadway design changes were targeted by members of Congress as well as witnesses as one of several ways to achieve that goal.

Yet the need to increase transportation funding loomed over that discussion, according to an article prepared by the Journal, a publication of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

“We need to look at safety from all angles – not just promoting more responsible behavior by road users, but by ensuring that roadway design takes into account all users through smart policies, such as complete streets,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chair of the House T&I Committee, in his written remarks.

“Addressing the unique elements of each community, such as pedestrian accessibility, street crossings, and bus and bike lanes, rather than a cookie-cutter approach can have a profound impact on reducing traffic accidents and fatalities,” he said.

But DeFazio also stressed that “while we invest billions of dollars in research for cancer and other diseases and allocate new resources to combatting the opioid crisis, we have failed to seriously invest in lowering deaths on our nation’s roadways.”

“I am anxious to learn from today’s witnesses … what we can do about reducing roadway fatalities,” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D, the at-large-representative for Washington D.C. and chair of the highways and transit subcommittee.

“I would very much like this re-authorization [of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or FAST Act] to transform our approach to roadway safety,” she said. “To get anywhere close to zero deaths, we need to improve how we design our transportation networks, educate the users of those transportation networks, and improve how as how to enforce the proven strategies that aim to save lives but are not doing so.”

Rep. Ross Spano, R-Fla., provided additional opening remarks, noting in his written testimony that many of those “proven strategies” are safety programs administered by the Federal Highway Administration and the Newsal Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“These programs require states to have a data-driven, performance-based approach to address their unique highway safety challenges,” he said. “The FAST Act expires on September 30, 2020, and as we continue with our re-authorization process, it is important that we gather feedback on how well these programs are working and what other policy and programmatic changes the committee should consider.”

Jennifer Homendy, a member of the Newsal Transportation Safety Board, noted in her written remarks that changing the speed limit guidance within the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices or MUTCD is one potential performance-based safety tactic.

“Speed limits are a critical component of speed management [and the MUTCD] emphasizes that states and localities set speed limits within 5 miles per hour of which 85 percent of vehicles are traveling,” she said. “The focus on the 85th percentile has led to increasing speed limits across the United States. For example, in 2012, 35 states had maximum speed limits at or above 70 mph; that increased to 41 states by 2016, with seven of those states at or above 80 mph.”

She said the NTSB recommends de-emphasizing the 85th percentile approach and instead require consideration of factors which are currently only optional, such as crash history, roadway characteristics, and roadway conditions. The agency also recommends incorporating a “safe systems approach” for urban roads by evaluating pedestrian and bicycle traffic alongside motor vehicle needs.

Jay Bruemmer, vice president of Missouri-based roadway contractor K & G Striping Inc. and chairman of the government relations committee for the American Traffic Safety Services Association, noted in his testimony that while “mitigating driver behavior is a perennial challenge for transportation leaders,” several “cost-effective” roadway infrastructure countermeasures – such as wrong-way driver detection systems, high friction surface treatments, new work zone management tools, and highway cable barriers – are being successfully deployed by state departments of transportation and others in order to combat “negative driver behavior.”

In written testimony submitted for the hearing record, the AASHTO emphasized that the design guides they produce provide planners, engineers, and designers with significant flexibility in how they ultimately design a transportation project while taking into account the overall safety and operations of the facility.

Further, AASHTO stated in its remarks that those guides “do not establish mandatory requirements for how a project should be designed; rather, they emphasize flexibility and encourage planners, engineers, and designers to take into account the unique aspects of each individual project.”

AASHTO’s testimony also addressed three safety priorities identified by its Transportation Policy Forum for upcoming federal surface transportation bill re-authorization efforts. Those priorities include:

  • A continued focus on implementation of performance management regulations;
  • The need to add flexibility for the use of Highway Safety Improvement Program funding to include activities that address behavioral issues; and
  • The need to add eligibility and increased federal share for railway-highway grade crossing projects.

However, ATSSA’s Bruemmer stressed in his remarks that “none of these safety priorities can be achieved without a solvent, robustly funded Highway Trust Fund.”

AASHTO agreed with that position, emphasizing in its written testimony that “an important aspect to programming funding is flexibility both in how funds can be used among engineering, education, enforcement and emergency services efforts as well as within the engineering domain where state DOTs have the most control to identify which engineering solution may be most appropriate to improve safety.”

ATSSA’s Bruemmer further added during the hearing that continuing to spend more from the Highway Trust Fund than is collected through taxes and fees “is not a long-term solution. We need to address these deficiencies. In that regard, we strongly support an increase to user fees to address the long-term viability of the Highway Trust Fund, which include increasing and indexing the motor fuels user fees, an eventual move towards a vehicle miles traveled user fee system, and where it makes sense, the use of public private partnerships.”

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Reluctantly, we’ll bid adieu, but we’ll do it with a song in our hearts

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By this time next month, trucking will have just lost a good friend.

No, no, Mr. Deejay, hold up on the somber string quartet. That’s not the mood we want. Quite the contrary. This is about somebody who has decided to step on life’s gas pedal.

Dorothy Cox, whose thoughts and talents have been gracing the pages of The Trucker for the past 20 years, took a little time off around this past Thanksgiving. Her birthday is in that neighborhood, too, so it made for a nice personal festival for her.

You know that feeling we all get when a vacation is ending, that, “No! I’m never going back to that rat race!” feeling? Well, Dorothy got that feeling during that personal pit stop, only this time she took it seriously.

She’d been a journalist long before she came to The Trucker, and she’d been toying with the idea of retiring for a while. During this extended time away from it all, she came to the conclusion, “You know what? Life’s too short, what am I waiting for?” and announced it was time call it a career as of April 1.

As the day got near, and we found ourselves approaching a Spaghetti Junction of overlapping deadlines, Dorothy agreed to give us one more month and help see us through it.

Even with the delay, her departure will leave a sizable hole here. Whenever an organization loses someone with 20 years of accumulated knowledge and memories and insights, it’s hard to quantify how much of an asset is walking out the door. It’s way more than, “Oh, we’re one short.”

It’s incalculable on a personal level, too. Dorothy’s down-to-earth sensibilities have been an important element of this newsroom. If this were an episode of “Seinfeld,” Jerry and George would label her an “easy laugher.” She looks for the humor in things, and nine times out of 10 she finds it, and enjoys it for all it’s worth.

Next to all that truck industry knowledge, there’s a designated little corner of her brain that is like a candy jar filled with sourballs, only these sourballs are a collection of some of the corniest puns the English language has ever produced. Just like sourballs they make you wince, but you can’t wait for another.

And there isn’t an off-color joke in the batch, I should add. She’s the kind of person who’s been around the block but hasn’t become jaded by it. There are no sharp edges in her personality. It’s very easy to feel comfortable around Dorothy. That’s a valuable talent in today’s high-strung world, and she’s one of the best at it.

I’ve watched her approach truckers at the truck stop and I’ve heard her with them on the phone. They don’t just let down their defenses with her, it’s like they don’t even have any. They instantly, instinctively recognize, “Hmm, she may not have a CDL, but she’s one of us.”

When I go to trucking events, I lose count how many people want to know, “How’s Dorothy?” and want me to tell her they said hi, even if they haven’t seen her in years.

That affection is both for Dorothy the person and Dorothy the journalist. Through her writing and reporting she’s proven time and again that she has drivers’ best interests at heart. Like an old friend, she isn’t shy about acknowledging drivers’ shortcomings, especially when they are self-defeating. But she’s also always been a champion for drivers.

In the two years I’ve been going to the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, several people have confided that it was her prodding on drivers’ behalf that sparked the momentum that has made the health and wellness pavilion such a prominent feature of that show.

In recent years, she has been a stalwart supporter of making the industry more welcoming to women. And she’s been deeply passionate in her coverage of the human trafficking problem in this country, and in setting the record straight that truckers are among the front-line heroes in that fight.

And while it isn’t as heavy a subject, she’s always been keen on promoting drivers’ creative endeavors. She especially seems to have a soft spot for musicians, probably because she is one herself. Her Arkansas twang puts her somewhere (geographically and vocally) between Loretta Lynn and Reba McEntire. I’ve heard her, and she’s good, and she’s retiring so I don’t even have to say that.

She has some friends who’s she played with for years, with whom she does a gig every now and then. In the couple months since she announced her plan to retire, whenever anyone’s asked what she plans to do with all the free time she’s going to have, the only specific thing she comes up with is maybe she’ll get more into her music.

As I try to think of a lyric that would make a fitting sendoff, I have to admit I’m not much into country music, but I grew up on all that baby boomer oldies stuff. So as a formal adieu to my friend and colleague Dorothy Cox – Mr. Deejay, if you would, cue up a little Supertramp:

Goodbye, stranger. It’s been nice. Hope you find your paradise.

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Health caution urged for truckers who ate at Kentucky Popeyes’ TA location March 17-April 5

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Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver that can cause loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness, fever, stomach pain, brown colored urine, light colored stools and diarrhea. (©2019 FOTOSEARCH)

FLORENCE, Ky. — A case of hepatitis A has been diagnosed in an employee who handled food at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen located at 7777 Burlington Pike, Florence, Kentucky, within the TravelCenters of America facility.  An ongoing investigation of the facility found that this employee worked during a period of time when ill or infectious, which included the dates of March 17 through April 5.

While it is relatively uncommon for restaurant patrons to become infected with the hepatitis A virus because of an infected food handler, anyone who consumed food or drink at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen during the dates listed is recommended to receive a vaccination if it is within two weeks of exposure as protection from becoming ill, which would include some of the time frame listed by the Northern Kentucky Health Department.

If it was during the dates listed but it has been longer than two weeks since the specific time a person ate there, it is recommended that they still get the vaccination although it will be outside the window to protect you from contracting the illness if you were exposed at this establishment.

Anyone who consumed food or drink at this Popeyes during the stated time period should monitor their health for symptoms of hepatitis A infection up to 50 days after exposure; wash their hands with soap and warm water frequently and thoroughly, especially after using the bathroom and before preparing food; and stay at home and contact their healthcare provider immediately if symptoms of hepatitis A infection develop.

The establishment’s management is cooperating with the investigation and response activities.  It has implemented enhanced disinfection steps to address surfaces that may have been contaminated.  Employees who worked with the involved employee have been informed to get hepatitis A vaccination to protect against the virus.  Co-workers have a greater risk of exposure due to prolonged close contact with the case.  Vaccination of associated food service workers helps to protect them against infection, which further protects the public.  Handwashing and related hygienic practices have been reinforced with the restaurant management and employees.  Additionally, the Health Department has directed restaurant employees to self-monitor for any symptoms of Hepatitis A that may develop over the next 50 days.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver that can cause loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness, fever, stomach pain, brown colored urine, light colored stools and diarrhea.  Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice) may also appear.  People may have some or none of these symptoms.  It could take up to 7 weeks after being exposed to the virus for someone to become ill.  Children often do not exhibit symptoms.  Any person who believes they may have symptoms of hepatitis A should contact their healthcare provider.  Additional information regarding Hepatitis A can be found at nkyhealth.org.

Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. The virus spreads when an infected person does not wash his/her hands adequately after using the toilet or engages in behaviors that increase risk of infection.  Careful hand washing, including under the fingernails, with soap and water, along with vaccination of anyone at risk of infection, will help prevent the spread of this disease.

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