Caltrans on April 29 honored the lives of 189 highway workers who have died keeping others safe during its 31st annual memorial on the West steps of the California State Capitol. This year’s tribute did not include a public event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To remember the fallen workers who built and maintained the state’s transportation system, Caltrans placed 189 orange traffic cones in a diamond “caution sign” configuration, each bearing the name of a worker lost since 1921. A single black cone at the center of this formation represented all workers lost on the state highway system, including private contractors and California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers.
“We remain impassioned as ever to honor our fallen heroes and their families again this year, and though we did not assemble for our traditional ceremony, our hearts are united in solidarity as we pause today to remember the sacrifices made by these individuals and their loved ones,” said Toks Omishakin, Caltrans' director.
"The pandemic precluded us from hosting our traditional ceremony for the second year running," said Tamie McGowen, Caltrans' assistant deputy director of Public Affairs, "but regardless of the very real challenges we face as professionals and individuals, we will always join together in thoughtful remembrance of the fallen. No matter the circumstances, we remain steadfastly committed to honoring their legacy."
The commemoration included six honor guards who watched over the symbolic tribute. Additionally, flags are flying at half-staff today at the State Capitol and at all Caltrans facilities across the state in honor of those lost.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, highway construction and maintenance work is one of the most hazardous occupations in the United States. In 2019, more than 7,062 work zone collisions occurred on California roadways. An estimated 2073 resulted in injuries, and 48 involved a fatality. Nationally, drivers and passengers account for 85 percent of the people who are killed in work zones.
During National Work Zone Awareness week (April 26-30), drivers are reminded to keep highway workers safe. The law requires motorists to move over to a lane not immediately adjacent to a highway work zone or any stationary vehicles displaying flashing emergency lights or amber warning lights. These include civilian vehicles, Caltrans and CHP vehicles, and tow trucks. If it is unsafe or impractical to change lanes, then motorists must slow to a reasonable and prudent speed that is safe for existing conditions. In these ways, motorists can “Be Work Zone Alert.”
Caltrans has partnered with the California Transportation Foundation (CTF) 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.
Watch the ceremony on Caltrans' YouTube page.