More than hard hats
DOT encourages safety at work zone

DULUTH - Josh Cofer knows what it's like to be the unpopular man on the side of the road - the object of plastic bottles, paper, even hamburgers thrown out of car windows.

But the Buford man who works as a construction project manager for the Georgia Department of Transportation said he doesn't want to cause traffic. In fact he wants to do the opposite.

"We're out there doing a job, so we can have a better road system, so people can get places faster," Cofer said.

Wednesday, he stood with other DOT employees at one of the state's largest projects - the reconstruction of the interchange at Interstate 85 and Ga. Highway 316 - to ask drivers to be courteous, to slow down and to keep safe during National Work Zone Safety Week.

Cofer, wearing an orange reflective ribbon in honor of the week, recalled a time during a project on U.S. Highway 29 outside Lawrenceville, when a co-worker had to dive into hot asphalt to avoid being hit by a drunk driver. The man burned his hands on the 300-degree asphalt, but his life was spared.

Teri Pope, a DOT spokeswoman, told of another crew member who was working along Interstate 985 when a lug nut came off a tractor-trailer's tires and hit him in the head, causing him to lose his ear.

"By definition work zones are very dangerous places," she said. "Work zones are our offices. My friends and I are out here working inches from traffic."

Since 1973, 56 Georgia DOT employees have been killed in work zones, including the 2003 death of a Gwinnett County man, Randy Reece, who was hit by a flat-bed truck while working on the side of Buford Highway.

But Pope pointed out that drivers are 85 percent more likely to get hurt in a work zone than a crew member. Because road conditions and lane closures change often, Pope encouraged drivers to slow down and to minimize distractions such as cell phones.

At the Duluth construction zone, speed limits have been lowered to 55 miles per hour on I-85 and 45 miles per hour on Ga. 316, and traffic ticket fines are doubled.

While that two-year-old project is ahead of schedule and expected to be complete by the end of the year, Pope noted there are 300 work zones each day across the state, and crews are expected to work on every major interstate in Georgia this summer, often at night and on weekends.

"We are going to be in your way this summer," she said, encouraging drivers to call 511 for traffic and construction updates.