AASHTO Journal

Colorado DOT Employee’s Work Zone Death Highlights Risks in Basic Road Repairs

With pothole repair season under way across the nation, the Feb. 11 death of Colorado Department of Transportation employee Nolan Olson highlights the risks state DOT workers and contractors face as they try to maintain roads amid ongoing vehicle traffic.

CDOT said long-time employee Olson died "from injuries sustained after being struck by a passing vehicle while working on a southwest Colorado highway" nine days earlier.

It said the crash took place Feb. 2 when Olson, a member of the Pagosa Springs maintenance patrol, was filling potholes on US 160 in Pagosa Springs. Olson "was severely injured and transported to St. Anthony's Hospital in Lakewood where he received treatment" until his death.  

cdot-nolan.jpgHe had been a CDOT equipment operator for 14 years, and the department said Olson "was always willing to find a more efficient way of doing things or trying to save the organization and taxpayer money."

Billy McDermott, the CDOT maintenance supervisor who manages the Pagosa Springs patrol, said: "Nolan possessed a wealth of knowledge about CDOT, was a true role model to his co-workers and was diligent in his work. Nolan faced every day with a great and positive attitude. Every member of his patrol looked up to him. Nolan gave guidance for work tasks and was able to share the history of the patrol, CDOT and Pagosa area whenever asked." 

CDOT Executive Director Michael Lewis said that "we lost an incredible team member in Nolan. He was the type of person who would not have wanted his loss to have gone without shining a spotlight on the risks that our crews take every day when they go out on the roads to serve the public."

Lewis emphasized the responsibility of the driving public to watch out for roadway workers. "Not only do I want the public to understand the type of man that Nolan was," he said, "I also want the public to know and understand the care needed when driving on our highways. A driver's undivided attention to the road will ensure we are able to come home to our families."

Across the nation, DOTs periodically report crew losses to death and injury as they are struck while trying to fix roads with little more protection than warning cones and signs urging drivers to slow down.

Work zone crashes result in the deaths of many drivers and vehicle occupants, plus of pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as casualties to work crews.

In 2015, for instance, there were 700 U.S. roadway work zone deaths – including 130 workers – and 35,526 injuries, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Above: Olson works to repair a Colorado road. Photo / CDOT

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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