From his Salt Lake City office, Carlos Braceras, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, runs and directs much of the department, as one would expect.
But Wednesday was unique. Braceras’ office, including his computer, phone and a pile of files, was stationed in the middle of an active construction zone at the interchange of Interstate 215 and State Route 201 in West Valley City.
“I thought it was important for people to understand that when you’re driving through a work zone, you’re driving through somebody’s office,” Braceras said. “Please drive carefully through it. Don’t barrel through our office.”
This week, the Federal Highway Administration is sponsoring National Work Zone Awareness Week to encourage motorists to be more aware of their surroundings in construction zones. Braceras felt the best way to emphasize that need for safety was to metaphorically move his office to a work zone.
“We have hundreds of projects going on around the state,” Braceras said. “The Utah Department of Transportation is value-driven. Safety is our top value — the safety of our men and women, whether they be UDOT employees, or contractors or the traveling public traveling through our work zones, that’s our No. 1 priority.”
Braceras wasn’t smack-dab in the middle of the work zone; adjacent to his desk was a cement barrier. Inches from that barrier, cars and trucks sped along the road.
“If a vehicle were to come and hit this barrier right now, it would move this barrier,” he said. “We are in a very active area that has a potential for danger.”
And an incident like the one described by Braceras isn’t uncommon in the slightest. In 2016, there were more than 3,000 auto crashes in work zones in Utah, which caused 11 deaths. Motorists need be cautious of work zones and know how to navigate safely through them.
“Work zones change all the time,” Braceras said. “So if you drove through it yesterday, don’t assume it’s going to be the same today.”
Clint Wiscombe, a contractor with Wadsworth Construction, said he’s seen several close calls in his eight years on the job, most recently on the I-215 project.
“One of our traffic control supervisors was turning around some signs and a motorist veered off and hit his truck, pinning him against the barrier,” Wiscombe said. “That busted up his back pretty good, totaled his truck, totaled our signs.”
Chris Dillman, another contractor with Wadsworth Construction, said construction zones are hazardous enough with the risks heavy machinery and equipment pose. Add traffic, and it becomes a whole different animal.
“When you factor in the motoring public just a few feet away from what you’re doing, it adds another dimension to that hazard,” Dillman said. “It can make you pretty nervous.”
But construction crews can’t adequately focus on the hazards posed by traffic and their job at the same time. That’s why they ask that motorists adhere to work zone traffic laws to keep everyone involved safe.
“We’re out here working, but we’re also people with families,” Wiscombe said. “We’re in a high-risk environment and everyone wants to get home safe.
“We’re not tearing up your office, we hope that you don’t tear up ours.”