Caltrans Workers Memorial: A Day to Remember Our Fallen
More than 200 Caltrans employees, family members, and friends attended the District 7 Workers Memorial Ceremony on Wednesday, April 22, at Dodgers Stadium to honor the 32 district employees who lost their lives working to improve California’s freeways.
“This is always a sad occasion and one we all wish were unnecessary,” said District Deputy Director Dan Freeman, speaking solemnly about the numbers of Caltrans employees killed on the job. “Unfortunately, as long as there are motorists who are inattentive, reckless, or impaired, our highway workers will continue to be at risk.”
More than 333,000 motorists travel through Caltrans work zones in some areas of District 7 everyday. On many occasions speeding motorists pass Caltrans employees within a few inches or feet while they are performing road maintenance, clearing debris, cleaning up graffiti, studying traffic patterns, surveying, and many other duties.
Another sad reminder of the dangers of highway work occurred on March 4, when Design Engineer Tom Brown, a 40-year Caltrans veteran and retiree, was struck by a car and killed while working as a consultant at the I-5/SR-14 Interchange. With Brown’s family in attendance, District Director Doug Failing said, “I can only say, on behalf of Caltrans, that we treasure all of the years we had with him [Brown].”
To bring a broader perspective of how dangerous highway work is, Richard Bartow, who spoke on behalf of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), said, “Three highway workers are killed on the job every five days nationwide.” Bartow also mentioned that the Highway Workers Protection Law (Senate Bill 1509 – Lowenthal), which increases the penalty for assaults and batteries committed against on-duty highway workers, was enacted last year and more legislation has been introduced to increase the safety of workers on the road.
Although the Workers Memorial is a somber statement to remember the fallen, it is also an event to recognize the everyday accomplishments of Caltrans workers.
“Pot holes, traffic accidents, natural disasters, earthquakes, fires, fuel spills, hazardous materials, drunk drivers, vandals, snow storms, and wild animals are just some of the things that you have to deal with on the road,” Failing told district employees. “But there you are whenever the public needs you, regardless of the risks to your personal safety. The work you do rarely ends up in the news headlines, but you know it has a very big impact.”
CHP Assistant Chief Stan Bower, in reference to the dedication and the necessity of the work that Caltrans workers accomplish everyday, expressed that “We often take for granted the freeways that we drive on everyday, that they’re well maintained, they’re striped, they’re landscaped, they’re lighted. All of that occurs because of the efforts of Caltrans workers and those who have fallen. We take those things for granted but they [Caltrans workers] are out there everyday.”
In an effort to remind the public of the humanity of Caltrans workers, Stephen Beck of the Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG), expressed that, “We need to remember that the people [Caltrans workers] up ahead are human beings – a son or a daughter.”
To sum up the sentiment of the memorial event, Dr. Dave Rizzo, a columnist with the Orange County Register, also known as Dr. Roadmap, implored the driving public to remember, “Caltrans is anything but a bureaucratic obstacle to improving travel in Southern California. If anything, the sacrifices that these individuals have made - all 32 of them in L.A. and Ventura counties - serve to remind us that Caltrans is flesh and blood.”