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Sense of Community: On the Job Dangers in a MODOT Work Zone

MODOT Maintenance Supervisor Nick Capra's work space is a work zone on I-44

Sense of Community March 27, 2012.  MODOT


Voice of Nick Capra, MODOT Maintenance Supervisor:  “Every morning, first thing we do before chores, before anything, we’ll have a safety meeting”.   Capra is describing his regular routine of readying himself and the men and women of his crew for planned projects and unplanned emergency calls on the roads and highways maintained by the Missouri Department of Transportation. 

Because of what Nick Capra and his co-workers in MODOT’s Southwest District do on a daily basis, commerce in, and communities across the Ozarks are better served.  Good roads are also good for our mental health.  But every day, 24X7X52, MODOT Maintenance crews literally place themselves in harm’s way on our highways to improve the quality of life in the Ozarks. 

As traffic sounds recorded on I-44 are heard in background, Nick Capra says:  “As far as my career, it seems that I-44 is pretty dangerous when setting up a work zone.  My job is to make sure we’ve got the right people for the right job, and they have the right protective equipment to do the job correctly.  It’s a long list of things to take into consideration on a daily basis.  It’s a team effort.  Everybody has to be on board and understand what the daily plan is”.

Nick Capra’s office is in the MODOT Maintenance shed on highway N, about a half mile south of I-44 north of Republic.  A typical daily plan for his crew always included the morning safety session, and could include overpass or underpass drainage issues, sign installation and repair, clearing brush and yes, pothole repair.  These are just a few examples of scheduled maintenance Capra’s crew might be involved in.  Unscheduled incidents can also force MOTOT’s involvement.  Nick Capra:  “An incident for us is along the lines of an emergency situation.  It could be a wreck, or it could be a weather event.”

Whatever the reason his workers are on our roads, highways or interstates, Nick Capra’s first priority is their safety.  His first cause of action is always the same, and that is getting signage up indicating “WORK ZONE AHEAD”, sometimes 2 or 3 miles ahead, and of course setting signage, lights, cones, flags and protective vehicles at the site itself.  Nick Capra:  “I’d say one of the biggest dangers of our job is traffic control and inattentive drivers.  Daily traffic count on I-44 alone is 60,000 a day.  Setting those initial signs even before we start work, I mean the danger starts right there.” 

Between 2007-2011,57 people were killed and over 3,800 injured in MODOT work zone accidents.  Since 2000, 15 MODOT employees have been killed in the line of duty.  Recently, on a warm sunny day West of Springfield, Nick Capra and I are standing just a few feet away from the East bound lanes of I-44.  The MODOT vehicle we arrived in and are standing in front of is pulled off to the side with emergency lights flashing.  I take note that not all oncoming vehicles are not moving left as they approach.  The law, I thought, dictates that to happen when approaching emergency vehicles on the highway.  Capra sets me straight:  “That law doesn’t apply to us. I wish it did.  I don’t know what legislation would have to take place for that to happen but it would be great.”

For KSMU and ksmu.org, I’m Mike Smith.