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FreightWaves Classics/Infrastructure: National Work Zone Memorial lists those who have died in work zones

“National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW) is an annual spring campaign held at the start of construction season to encourage safe driving through highway work zones.” NWZAW is being held this week (April 11-15). Although the Federal Highway Administration and each of the state departments of transportation want drivers to use extra caution in work zones 24/7/365, NWZAW shines a spotlight on work zone safety. 

Since the first National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW) took place in April 2000, the week is an annual observance to alert drivers to be more attentive and cautious when driving in and near construction work zones. 

FreightWaves Classics has published a different article on NWZAW each day this week. Here are links to Monday’s article, Tuesday’s article, Wednesday’s article and yesterday’s article.  

The National Work Zone Memorial. (Photo: fhwa.dot.gov)
The National Work Zone Memorial. (Photo: fhwa.dot.gov)

National Work Zone Memorial

Today is the last day of the observance of NWZAW in 2022. This FreightWaves Classics article focuses on the importance of remembering the individuals who have lost their lives in accidents at road and highway construction sites. 

Unfortunately, deaths and injuries at roadway construction sites have occurred in every state. To commemorate those who died, the National Work Zone Memorial was created in 2002. The memorial was introduced during the 2002 NWZAW and is maintained by the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA).

“The National Work Zone Memorial is a mobile memorial.” Its wall panels feature the names of more than 1,500 people who have died in work zone accidents, and unfortunately the list has to be updated on an annual basis. 

ATSSA’s communications director, Jim Baron, explained in a 2002 interview with Construction Equipment Guide how he developed the idea for the National Work Zone Memorial. “Every day you read in the newspaper about something strange happening in a work zone,” Baron explained. “It’s a tragic statistic that goes relatively unnoticed across America.”

North Carolina public safety officers stand in front of the National Work Zone Memorial. (Photo: North Carolina Construction News)
North Carolina public safety officers stand in front of the National Work Zone Memorial. (Photo: North Carolina Construction News)

Baron conceived a permanent, year-round memorial rather than a temporary exhibit as a potentially effective way to bring the issue of work zone deaths to “the attention of the public in a dramatic way.” Baron was inspired in part by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“What many people don’t realize is the high number of motorists, not just roadway workers, who are killed in work zones,” stated Roger Wentz, ATSSA’s executive director, who was also interviewed by Construction Equipment Guide. Wentz also said, “This memorial will recognize all people killed in work zones over the years.”

The National Work Zone Memorial was formally introduced on April 9, 2002. It was unveiled during a NWZAW event in Capitol Heights, Maryland, in a work zone at an interchange along Interstate 495, the Capital Beltway that encircles the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. 

One of the officials who took part in that ceremony was Noman Y. Mineta, who at that time was the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. He said, “Motorists should exercise the utmost caution when they drive through highway construction zones, both for their own safety and for the safety of construction workers. Safety is everyone’s responsibility. The National Work Zone Memorial is a poignant reminder of the tragedy that results when we are not careful in work zones.”

Colorado is one of several states that have their own memorials to employees killed at roadway construction sites. (Photo: codot.gov)

Another speaker at the event was the secretary of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and vice president of AASHTO, James C. Codell, III (who became president of AASHTO the following year). Codell said, “Work zones are proof that America takes care of its infrastructure. But our motorists must remember to take care of themselves, their passengers, and construction and maintenance people who keep us moving by being fully focused while driving through work zones.” He added, “Be alert – your life is as much at stake as the lives of the people behind the cones.”

Twenty years later, the National Work Zone Memorial still moves from city to city and state to state, a tribute to those who have died in work zones. It also reminds all who see it to drive as safely as possible through the roadway construction zones of our nation.

A final word

National Work Zone Awareness Week takes place every April. However, all of us who drive on city streets, state and national highways and the nation’s interstate highways must be vigilant and cautious in work zones each and every time we encounter them, no matter what day of the year that occurs.

The Virginia Department of Transportation's memorial to those who have died in construction zones in Virginia. (Photo: vdot/highways.dot.gov)
The Virginia Department of Transportation’s memorial to those who have died in construction zones in Virginia.
(Photo: vdot/highways.dot.gov)