Gridlock Guy: The need for more caution and respect in all work zones

National Work Zone Awareness Week has just wrapped. The annual April reminder is a nod to the tireless construction workers, who put themselves in danger to build and repair the roads. This time also highlights the dangers to surrounding drivers in work zones - lane shifts, closures that cause changes in routes, unusual delays, and small or no emergency lanes. Crash-risk increases when delays and changes proliferate. So work zones require an even heavier attention load from drivers.

But another more underlying need in construction areas is simply the need for respect of those in the hard hats and vests.

Sure, sometimes a group of workers appears to be huddled around the one that is actually digging. That can bring chuckles or eye rolls. But all the workers deserve respect, particularly when they are directing traffic.

Tensions run high when commuters get ensnared in delays from a work closure. Traffic drips by one at a time, crawling past a worker holding some version of a “Proceed With Caution” sign. That person deserves a nod, a cap tip, or a salute for standing there and roasting in the heat or shivering in the cold. They breathe in the exhaust from the idling vehicles and the construction equipment. And they often are greeted by annoyed or distracted drivers, who have taken to checking phones illegally while stopped.

That worker is a small cog in the machine that helps keep that road open for safer travels later. Complacence is an inert form of indignity.

Then there is blatant disrespect for road workers. Local outlet Decaturish broke a story this past week that reeks of pompousness, priviledge, and acrimony. A Kirkwood resident’s security camera captured an uncomfortably tense exchange between an Atlanta Watershed employee and Pullman Yards owner Adam Rosenfelt. Rosenfelt profanely berated the woman, who was working with a road crew that was replacing a Rogers Street sewer line, for parking in his parking place on the Pullman property.

There was not just extreme anger in Rosenfelt’s voice in the disturbing video, but also a sickening elitism. It boiled down to a “How dare you - a mere city employee - park in the prestigious owner of this prosperous property’s spot?”

Now, could there have been a history of tension between the crew and Rosenfelt that finally spilled over into this blow out? Of course. And the woman, who eventually broke down in tears, was also yelling back at Rosenfelt at one point. Even still, this is no way to handle the people who are trying to improve the infrastructure in that neighborhood.

That interaction was mostly between two people on foot, though Rosenfelt reportedly later got in his car and drove over to berate other members of the crew. We have covered before how people encased in a vehicle seem to feel license to show more disrespect and anger and the mundane annoyances of traffic. The Kirkwood incident should be a cautionary tale for all of us about how our momentary eruptions can bring long term regret.

That generational notion was the heart of GDOT’s campaign last week: “Work zones are temporary. Actions behind the wheel can last forever.” The initiative’s main image shows a person driving with one hand and holding their phone with the other, as they approach a work zone.

Crashes in these areas in Georgia have killed 61 workers since record keeping began in 1973, the state said. GDOT also reports that 2023 saw 13,689 crashes in Georgia work zones, injuring 4,891 and killing 62.

Keep in mind, these large numbers are of non-workers that are swept up in their mistakes or others in these hazardous areas.

During the 6 p.m. rush hour on Monday, April 15th, the WSB Traffic Team and I covered a multi-vehicle crash on I-20/westbound just before Wesley Chapel Road (Exit 68) in DeKalb County. This is in the heart of the rebuild of the I-285/I-20 interchange on the east side, which also includes expanded collector distributor lanes that stretch all the way to Lithonia - relief this sector has needed for years. But this area routinely sees crash after crash in the narrowed, shifted lanes and tiny shoulders. The markings are tough to see and there are potholes on the road seams, too.

Regardless of who deserves blame for the tough driving conditions, the obstacles require more attention from drivers. So far, the commuting body has not done well in this sector of I-20.

Whether construction workers or people in the passing vehicles themselves are the ones hurt or killed, there is no arguing that ephemeral lapses of judgment or attention in these temporary work zones can have eternal effects. That also includes how people treat those administering those zones. That Atlanta Watershed worker will never forget how they were treated that Friday morning nor will Rosenfelt likely forget his terrible reactions. The outburst delayed the project nearly two weeks, the report said.

Everyone in a work zone needs to equally apply caution and respect for those working and for the sake of surrounding motorists.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. Download the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to hear reports from the WSB Traffic Team automatically when you drive near trouble spots. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.

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