National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW): The National Work Zone Memorial

In the time since the first National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW) was held in April 2000, that week has served as a yearly means of calling nationwide attention to both the need for drivers to be extra cautious when traveling in the vicinity of construction work zones and the importance of remembering the individuals who have lost their lives in accidents at those locations. One of the longstanding and most widely seen tributes to those deceased individuals is the National Work Zone Memorial, which was first unveiled during NWZAW in 2002 and is maintained by the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA).

The National Work Zone Memorial (pictured above) is a mobile memorial that was created for ATSSA by Eastern Metal/USA Sign. This unique and portable memorial features wall panels that bear the names of more than 1,500 people who have died in work zone accidents; this list of names is updated on annual basis. The panels are easy to assemble and, along with the supporting poles for each, can be quickly packed into a couple of shipping cases for delivery as needed to various cities and other communities throughout the United States.   

Jim Baron, ATSSA’s communications director, recounted during a 2002 interview with Construction Equipment Guide how he had come up with the idea of the National Work Zone Memorial. “Every day you read in the newspaper about something strange happening in a work zone,” Baron explained. “It’s a tragic statistic that goes relatively unnoticed across America.”

Baron saw the development of a permanent, year-round memorial rather than a temporary exhibit as a potentially effective means of helping to bring the sad reality of work zone deaths to “the attention of the public in a dramatic way.” Baron drew a large part of his inspiration for what became the National Work Zone Memorial from the granite wall of deceased servicemen appearing on the granite wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Roger Wentz, ATSSA’s executive director, likewise discussed the National Work Zone Memorial in his own interview with Construction Equipment Guide. “What many people don’t realize is the high number of motorists, not just roadway workers, who are killed in work zones,” said Wentz. “This memorial will recognize all people killed in work zones over the years.”

The National Work Zone Memorial was formally introduced to the public on April 9, 2002, in Capitol Heights, Maryland. This Tuesday morning ceremony was specifically held in a work zone at an interchange along the Capital Beltway (Interstate 495).

One of the public officials taking part in in that ceremony was Noman Y. Mineta, U.S. secretary of transportation. “Motorists should exercise the utmost caution when they drive through highway construction zones, both for their own safety and for the safety of construction workers,” Mineta said to those in attendance. “Safety is everyone’s responsibility. The National Work Zone Memorial is a poignant reminder of the tragedy that results when we are not careful in work zones.”

Other speakers at the ceremony included James C. Codell, III, secretary of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and vice president of AASHTO. (Codell was elected president of AASHTO later that year.) “Work zones are proof that America takes care of its infrastructure,” said Codell during his remarks at the ceremony. “But our motorists must remember to take care of themselves, their passengers, and construction and maintenance people who keep us moving by being fully focused while driving through work zones. Be alert – your life is as much at stake as the lives of the people behind the cones.”

Following its debut at that NWZAW event, the National Work Zone Memorial was transported throughout the country (starting in Pennsylvania) for the first of many road trips. This traveling memorial remains very much appreciated and in demand today as a tribute to those who have died in work zones and also as a reminder for everyone to drive as safely as possible through those areas.

Photo Credit: ATSSA

For more information on the National Work Zone Memorial and its history, please check out Memorial Honors Work-Zone Victims : CEG (constructionequipmentguide.com) and ATSS Foundation > National Work Zone Memorial (atssa.com)

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