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Kyle Cordova loves his job. He enjoys working outdoors in the mountains. And he takes pride in providing Coloradans roads to drive on that he believes are better than in any other state.
Cordova, 27, is a transportation maintenance supervisor for CDOT. He manages a team of seven, and they maintain a section of road that starts near the C-470 and I-70 intersection and goes to about Floyd Hill, which is just past Evergreen.
At about 2 p.m. Feb. 21, Cordova and his crew responded to a cleanup call on the highway at exit 244 — the US-6 junction — after a beer truck heading westbound tipped over and spilled a load.
“There was beer and debris all over the ramp,” Cordova said.
The two lanes of I-70 stayed open, but the ramp was shut down and the crew used their maintenance vehicles as a blocking mechanism so they could safely perform the cleanup efforts, Cordova said.
However, at about 3 p.m., a motorist was speeding westbound, and as she tried to get into the left lane to avoid the ramp where the cleanup was occuring, her vehicle collided with another in the lane she was merging into, which caused the second vehicle to turn sideways. Then, both out-of-control, the two vehicles — a small sized SUV and a four-door sedan — came straight toward the work zone and almost hit four of the workers.
Luckily, all four were able to jump out of the way of the vehicles and avoid injury, Cordova said.
“Everyone was in shock,” Cordova said. “We were very lucky. (But) if we weren’t paying attention, we all could have been killed.”
Bumper-to-bumper and stop-and-go traffic.
Merging into a single lane of highway.
Traveling 20 mph below the speed limit during rush hour.
Work zones can be frustrating, said Stacia Sellers, a communications specialist with the Colorado Department of Transportation.
But motorists must remember to “go slow in the cone zone,” Sellers said, reciting a well-known safety campaign slogan.
“Even if you don't see the workers, it's coned off for a reason," she said.
No matter if it's filling a pothole, replacing a guardrail, repairing a bridge, building a new road or cleaning up debris, road crew workers are out there to make the roads safer, Sellers said.
And they're putting their lives at risk to do so, she added.
Whether it is a lane closed off or a traffic pattern realignment, for example, these are active work zones and are not normal driving conditions, said Colorado State Patrol Trooper Josh Lewis. At any given time, a piece of machinery or a person on foot could suddenly appear.
People should follow the same guidelines when driving through a work zone as with any time they're behind the wheel — be aware of your surroundings and not distracted, Lewis said.
But especially in work zones, “slow down and be vigilant,” he said. “These are real human beings out doing a job. And they want to be able to go home at the end of the day.”
There will always be signs posted to warn drivers that they're entering a work zone, said Kyle Cordova, a transportation maintenance supervisor for CDOT.
“But,” he said, “for some reason, it's quite common for somebody to drive into a coned-off lane.”
Distracted driving is an issue, but Cordova believes the biggest hazard is aggressive driving, he said.
“We have people fly by us, well over the speed limit,” Cordova said, noting sometimes people will drive 20 mph or even 30 mph over the posted speed limit.
Another thing people should be mindful of are the driving conditions, such as sun glare or snow, Cordova said.
“You never know what you're going to get,” he said. “In a split second, anything could happen. And it could cost a life.”
Other than paying attention and adhering to posted signs, another thing motorists can do is comply with the Move Over Law, Sellers said. In fact, she added, a lot of motorists don't realize the law also includes road maintenance workers.
Colorado's Move Over Law was implemented on July 1, 2005, and requires motorists to make way for emergency vehicles, by way of pulling over and stopping, or slowing down and moving to a lane away from the emergency vehicle.
Motorists can also get hurt in a work zone accident, said Sara Aupperle, a project engineer with Kraemer North America, a full-service heavy civil contractor based in Castle Rock. “The impact is two-fold.”
Especially in the case of a collision with a large piece of machinery, cars can get damaged and a person could be injured, she said.
“The bottom line,” Aupperle said, “is that we plan our work to avoid and mitigate hazards for everyone, including Kraemer workers, subcontractors, inspectors, pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.”
Kraemer does a number of safety preparation mechanisms that follow through for the duration of a project, Aupperle said. Examples are site-specific safety orientations, during which workers review recognized hazards on a project, and safety critical planning, which helps to prepare for closures and other provisions related to traffic flow.
The company recently completed a project at U.S. 6 and 19th Street in Golden, work that came to be commonly known as Linking Lookout. Despite working directly next to about 43,000 cars and hundreds of pedestrians and cyclists each day, and working in volatile Colorado weather conditions, only two incidents were recorded over the duration of the project, Aupperle said.
One of the incidents involved an inattentive motorist not seeing and subsequently hitting a worker on foot crossing in a crosswalk in the construction area.
“Following that incident,” Aupperle said, “the City of Golden, Golden Police Department and Kraemer worked together and enacted enhanced protections for everyone.”
Motorists need to remember that if it weren't for the road workers, people wouldn't be able to easily get to work, to the doctor, to the grocery store or any other place that requires road travel, Cordova said.
“We're not out there to delay your day,” Cordova said. “We're there to provide a safe road for the traveling public.”
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