PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – Monday, April 11 kicked off National Work Zone Awareness Week, which is now in its 22nd year.

According to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), highway work zone fatalities have increased significantly, from 11 in 2020 to 28 in 2021.

“Work Zones are a Sign to Slow Down,” is this year’s theme for National Work Zone Awareness Week. The slogan was inspired by a VDOT crew leader in Virginia’s Bristol District. It’s a reminder to drivers to do their part to reduce work zone fatalities and injuries.

“Behind the barrels and signs, highway workers are standing inches away from traffic as they improve our roads. They are sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. They are neighbors, coaches, and friends. Their mission is to keep you, your passengers, and cargo safe while traveling across the 125,000 miles of roadway in Virginia,” said Gov. Glenn Youngkin. “I want all Virginians and visitors to arrive safely at their destination. Please slow down and pay careful attention at the first sign of a work zone.” 

Work zone awareness week (WAVY Photo – Walter Hildebrand)

VDOT is the host transportation department for the 2022 National Work Zone Awareness Week kickoff event, which was held Tuesday at one of the largest infrastructure projects in the country, the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel Expansion Project. 

At the event, VDOT came with some sobering news regarding Virginia’s highways.

“Last year, we had over 1300 crashes in work zones in Hampton Roads alone and that is that’s an increase of about 41% over the previous year, over 2020,” said Holly Christopher, a VDOT representative.

But the issue is not just here in Hampton Roads

“Fatalities across the state were up by 155% and that is something that can absolutely be avoided,” Christopher said.

On hand was a crumpled construction barrier — 28 cones representing those lives lost in work zones crashes last year. There’s also a national memorial for those killed in work zone incidents.

At the event, a woman who lost her father when she was just 6 years old shared her message.

Cameron Hutt’s father was added to the work zone accident memorial in 2006.

“He was erecting a speed limit sign at the beginning of a work zone in his hometown of Indianapolis when two cars weaving in and out of traffic at a high speed collide and hit him,” she said.

She knows the pain of losing a loved one, and she came to put a face on those touched by work zone tragedies — tragedies that could have been easily avoided.

“Our situation was totally preventable. All of these accidents are preventable if people just are cautious, if they’re aware of the work the others are doing for their own safety,”

So when you see a sign like this, slow down, put your cell phone down, and keep your eyes on the road.

“You shouldn’t have to be worrying about coming home alive just by doing your job,” Christopher said.

Tips to safely navigate work zones:

  • Stay alert
  • Slow down 
  • Use caution
  • Follow the signs. Signs and flaggers will direct you through work zones. Expect changes in traffic patterns as a project progresses.
  • Watch out for workers and slow-moving equipment
  • Allow extra space between your vehicle and the one in front of you
  • Expect speed limits to vary in work zones. Enhanced fines of up to $500 may be levied for speeding in a work zone.
  • Be patient. Crews are working to improve the safety and comfort of your travels.
  • Never change lanes in a work zone
  • Know before you go. Before starting a trip, visit 511Virginia.org for real-time information on traffic, lane closures, work zones and incidents. Download the free mobile 511Virginia app, or call 511 from any phone in Virginia.

There are events all week long and a memorial dedicated to those lost in deadly work zone crashes. Get the details at this link.