State departments of transportation in California, Minnesota, and West Virginia recently held formal memorial ceremonies to recognize highway workers who lost their lives in the line of duty – a reflection of broader efforts by state DOTs to support the recently-completed National Work Zone Awareness Week campaign.
[Above photo by Caltrans]
The California Department of Transportation held its 33rd Annual Workers Memorial on the west steps of the state capitol in Sacramento to honor the memory of 191 roadway workers who have died in the line of duty since 1921 as well as emphasize the need for all travelers to drive safely through work zones.
Special commemorations were paid to Ali Shabazz and Quanda McGadney, two Caltrans employees who tragically lost their lives in 2022 while on the job.
“This is why we always say safety is Caltrans’ top priority. Lives are literally at stake every day, and tragically, we lost two of our devoted workers in the past year,” explained Tony Tavares, director of Caltrans, in a statement.
“At Caltrans, we hold a sacred duty to remember all the people who have lost their lives working with us,” he stressed. “I ask all Californians to please slow down and move over in every work zone, every time. A life may depend on it.”
As part of its annual service, the agency arranged 189 orange traffic cones in a diamond “caution sign” configuration, adding two additional cones during the ceremony, each bearing the name of an employee killed on the job since 1921. A black cone in the center represented all people killed while working on the state highway system, including private contractors, tow truck drivers, California Highway Patrol officers and other emergency responders.
Caltrans has also partnered with the California Transportation Foundation to develop two funds to benefit the families of Caltrans workers killed on the job. The Fallen Workers Assistance and Memorial Fund helps with the initial needs a surviving family faces and the Caltrans Fallen Workers Memorial Scholarship is available to the children of these workers. For more information or to make donations, visit the California Transportation Foundation.
Meanwhile, Governor Tim Walz (D) proclaimed April 28 as “Worker Memorial Day” to honor the 35 Minnesota Department of Transportation workers and 16 contractors killed or injured while working on state roadways since 1960.
“Workers are out on Minnesota roads every day, often just feet away from moving traffic, to keep roads safe for everyone,” said Nancy Daubenberger, Minnesota DOT commissioner, in a statement. “We’re all in the work zone together. Every person in every work zone deserves to get home safely, every day. Do your part to keep everyone safe – slow down and avoid distractions while driving in work zones.”
She also noted that her agency maintains a Transportation Worker Memorial website and a permanent worker memorial installation at Minnesota DOT headquarters to honor the memory of those who lost their lives while building and/or maintaining state roads.
Additionally, the West Virginia Department of Transportation held a candlelight vigil to remember the 58 highway workers who lost their lives in the course of their daily work.
The agency’s Worker Memorial, unveiled in 2017 at the Interstate 77 Welcome Center in Williamstown, bears the names of WVDOT men and women who lost their lives on the job. For 2023, smaller replicas of the memorial – designed by West Virginia sculptor Jamie Lester – were placed in each of the Welcome Centers around the state.