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April is Work Zone Safety Awareness Month, and I’m asking everyone to truly listen to the messages coming from state departments of transportation across the country on this topic.

I started with the Maryland Department of Transportation in the 1990s in the Plats and Surveys Division of MDOT State Highway Administration, a division filled with amazing professionals who love what they do and love to teach their craft, land surveying.

Shortly after I started, the office was working on the early stages of design for the MD 404 project on the Eastern Shore. We just completed construction on this project a few years ago – yes, getting all project phases done can sometimes take decades.

While working on the design, the team needed the Plats and Surveys Division to check property lines and confirm elevations to make sure their topographic model was accurate. It was my first experience with field work and my first experience working on the side of a road with cars, trucks and 18-wheelers buzzing past me at 60-plus miles an hour.

I’ll never forget that day, because I’ll never forget the feeling of those trucks flying by and thinking of how dangerous this is, so we had better pay attention.

By the time we cut the ribbon on the completed MD 404 project, I had become State Highway Administrator, and I reflected on that experience in a very personal way, thinking of how my colleagues in Plats and Surveys could teach, work and have fun like no others while still being deadly serious and proud of what they do.

I’ve had many experiences on roadsides since then for a variety of reasons – crashes, observing conditions, drainage issues, vegetation and others. You get used to the inherent dangers that exist in work zones, but you never get comfortable. I think about this every day, because being in the department for so long I feel like I’ve grown up with many of the men and women who work alongside me, and work alongside our roadways.

Why should we all listen to the messages DOTs are putting out right now for work zone safety? Because these men and women are people I consider my family. They are husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, moms and dads, and they have families of their own. They are out there doing critical work, and each day you, me and other motorists are driving through their office. We all have a responsibility to keep them safe by paying attention, slowing down and avoiding distractions.

At MDOT, the safety of everyone on the road – our work crews, drivers, passengers, bicyclists and pedestrians – is our top priority and something we focus on every day.

During Work Zone Safety Awareness Month, we’re reminding motorists to do the same: Focus. Slow down. Stay alert. When you travel through a work zone, please drive like you or your loved ones are working there too.

From 2014 through 2019, there were 9,656 work zone related crashes in Maryland, injuring 4,155 people and claiming the lives of 53 people. In many cases, motorists are the ones killed in these crashes. The leading causes of work zone crashes are distractions, driving too fast and following other vehicles too closely.

MDOT is entering a robust spring and summer road construction and maintenance season, and these awareness efforts are intended to protect workers and those who travel through the hundreds of active work zones in Maryland.

Today is Go Orange/Roadway Worker Appreciation Day, and we’re asking the public to wear orange to honor these workers and support work zone safety!

If you do, take a photo and share it on MDOT’s social media – @MDOTNews and @MDSHA on Twitter and and –  with the hashtag #GoOrangeMD.

We’re thankful for  the many state, local and national agencies and organizations that have partnered with us to share the message of work zone safety, including  National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, the American Traffic Safety Services Association, the District Department of Transportation, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Highway Safety Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Alliance Program, the Associated General Contractors of America, the Virginia Department of Transportation and

The men and women in our MDOT work zones are heroes every day, and during this extraordinary pandemic year, our crews have been critical in keeping Maryland’s supply chain open, helping essential employees get to work, and improving the safety and reliability of our roadway and transit network. Even more, they have advanced critical infrastructure projects that will position Maryland as a national leader in job growth and economic recovery.

These crew members have embraced the challenge of this past year with courage and dedication to do their jobs safely and with the highest of standards. During Work Zone Safety Awareness Month, I urge every Marylander to follow that example.

It’s my hope that we continue the same attention and resolve Maryland has shown in fighting COVID-19, and rededicate ourselves to the shared responsibility for safety, health, courtesy and protection of life on our highways, railways and every work zone as our communities re-open.

Greg Slater, Secretary

Maryland Department of Transportation