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News 4 Investigates examines how other states are protecting road crews after deadly MoDOT crash

The head of MoDOT wants the driver in a deadly work zone crash to lose his license and face...
The head of MoDOT wants the driver in a deadly work zone crash to lose his license and face criminal charges.
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 10:16 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - A deadly MoDOT work zone crash is prompting the families of those affected to call on the state to do more to protect its workers.

In November 2021, a driver hit a MoDOT striping crew working on Telegraph Road near I-255 in South County. The crash killed 58-year-old James Brooks and 25-year-old Kaitlyn Anderson, who was nearly 6 months pregnant with her son Jaxx. A third MoDOT worker, Michael Brown, survived but suffered lifelong injuries.

“I have no idea how I’m going to fix my heart,” said Tonya Musskopf, speaking for the first time exclusively to News 4 Investigates.

Musskopf sits surrounded by baby gifts she’ll never get to see her grandson, Jaxx, use.

“Our family is destroyed, I have a whole nursery at my house,” Musskopf said. “If MoDOT would have done the right thing, Kaitlyn would still be here.”

Crash records from Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) note the crew was in a clearly marked work zone, but cones, flashing lights, and an electronic flashing arrow didn’t stop the driver.

“Every time I see a cone, knowing that’s the only protection my daughter had, my heart breaks,” Musskopf added.

In the past five years, five MoDOT employees died in work zone crashes.

News 4 Investigates tried to ask MoDOT if it’s considering any safety changes. The department responded in an email writing, “we are not doing interviews.”

News 4 Investigates turned to other states and checked Department of Transportation records to see how Missouri compares.

Since 2017, Illinois, which has more than double the population of Missouri, lost 6 IDOT employees in work zones. In that same time period, Arkansas lost 3 ARDOT workers, Iowa lost 2 workers, and Kansas lost 1 KDOT worker.

“We’re putting up message boards about work zones, before zones,” explained KDOT Director of Employee Safety Troy Whitworth. “We try to have law enforcement in our work zones whenever they’re available.”

Notably, Tennessee, which has a similar population size to Missouri, had no worker deaths.

“The risks have never been higher on our transportation system,” said Jay Norris, Director of Occupational Health and Safety at the Tennessee Dept. of Transportation.

Norris explained that his job was created after 2016 when the state lost 3 employees in work zones.

“We want every employee to go home every night,” Norris said.

It’s a goal Tennessee met the past 5 years. Norris said the department noticed more drivers weren’t paying attention on the road. That’s why he claimed they invested more in “Truck-Mounted Attenuators” known as TMA’s. They’re portable barriers meant to save lives.

“We have a 130 maintenance crews statewide, we made sure each had one,” Norris added.

He explained the focus has been getting more TMA’s in busier, urban areas where some crews are assigned multiple TMA’s.

“We want to make sure we’re going above and beyond the minimum standard,” Norris said.

Back in Missouri, TMA’s are getting hit more. A recent News 4 Investigation exposed how the number of TMA’s hit nearly doubled in the past two years and MoDOT doesn’t always require that added protection.

Under MoDOT policy, TMA’s are optional if the speed limit is under 45 mph. On Telegraph Road. the speed is 40 mph, there was no TMA last November. Instead, the crew had the truck they drove in and were working off the back of, along with cones marking the closed lane.

“What about the three lives that are behind that truck, are you going to put a value on those lives?” Musskopf said.

There’s no national standard when it comes to TMA’s, each state sets its own rules.

“They tailor their requirements to their specific needs,” said Gerald Ullman, a Senior Research Engineer at Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute.

Gerald Ullman looks at work zone safety across the country. He calls barriers the best choice but says one main reason they’re not always used is cost. In those cases, Ullman says there are other options.

“Portable rumble strips are being used by some agencies upstream of work areas to run over them, shakes the car,” Ullman said.

News 4 Investigates asked Ullman what he thought it would take to reach the goal of “zero work zone fatalities.”

“Distracted driving to me is probably the top cause of challenges that we’re seeing,” Ullman answered.

Musskopf wants safety changes at MoDOT.

“I have called the governor, I have repeatedly called senator after senator,” she explained. “I’ll never stop fighting.”

Musskopf also reached out to OSHA and asked if it would open an investigation to see if her daughter’s crew was properly protected. OSHA sent back a letter saying it, “does not have jurisdiction over state workers.”

Ultimately Musskopf says she wants no other family to know the loss she lives with every day.

“I pray every day when I see a work zone they go home at the end of the day, unfortunately, we didn’t get that lucky,” she said.

Since the crash, Musskopf says people will send her pictures showing MoDOT crews working on roads without any protective barriers.

Musskopf says her family is considering taking legal action against the state.

MoDOT declined multiple requests for an interview with News 4 Investigates. However, following a recent News 4 Investigation, the Director of MoDOT, Patrick McKenna, sent a letter to the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s office asking them to file charges against the driver.

News 4 Investigates asked several states about their TMA use. Here are the responses received:

Question:

What is the policy regarding Truck/trailer-mounted attenuators (TMA’s)? Are there any times when crews are required to use a TMA?

Answers:

Arkansas: ARDOT regularly utilizes truck and trailer-mounted attenuators (TMAs) in various maintenance operations throughout the state. ARDOT follows the national standard, which is the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), for establishing work zone traffic control. The MUTCD provides the guidance and typical applications for when TMAs are utilized, and there are multiple typical applications for various types of work zones. For example, ARDOT would utilize TMAs for a Mobile Operation (lane closure) on a multi-lane roadway. TMA’s are not typically used for a single-lane closure with a flagger on a two-lane roadway.

Illinois: Before IDOT maintenance staff begin work in the field, the necessary protections are determined through the department’s traffic control field manual and based on the kind of work taking place, the type of road or facility and anticipated traffic volumes. Many of the work zone cases require the use of truck- and trailer-mounted attenuators. The department maintains training to ensure employees are aware of requirements and potentially hazardous situations in the field.

Maryland: The Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) requires protection vehicles, such as mounted attenuators, for all roadway and roadside work where posted speed limits are 55 mph or greater. This rule applies for both stationary and mobile operations.

Wisconsin: WisDOT requires truck/trailer-mounted attenuators (TMA’s) for several scenarios which are outlined in the WisDOT Work Zone Field Manual.

Question:

Are there any other safety policies the department of transportation is using to help prevent work zone fatalities and protect road crews?

Answers:

Arkansas: As described above, ARDOT has adopted and follows the MUTCD, which sets minimum standards and provides guidance and uniformity of all traffic control devices in our state and across the nation. ARDOT has a safety manual that describes many safety policies that have been established for the protection and safety of the workers and traveling public. ARDOT utilizes standard personal protective equipment, such as Class 3 safety vests to be work at all times when in any work zone, hard hats, chain saw chaps, and more. ARDOT provides regular safety training for employees and supervisors. ARDOT continues to invest in safety enhancements for work zones, such as TMAs, Automated Flagger Control devices, Automated Work Zone Information Systems (AWIS), temporary portable rumble strips. ARDOT recently began utilizing wearable safety light devices for crews working at night in our metro areas and is considering expanding the use statewide. ARDOT also has a separate website (iDriveArkansas.com) specifically dedicated to road conditions and traffic updates in real-time. We send out public notices for lane closures or any type of traffic disruption due to a road project. The Arkansas Highway Police are a subsection within ARDOT that help prevent and manage traffic incidents on highways and interstates, including through speed enforcement, enforcing truck regulations, and having a presence in work zones. Last but not least, we launched a campaign in February 2022 called “Slow Down, Phone Down” that specifically focuses on cracking down on distracted driving in work zones: https://www.ardot.gov/slowdownphonedown/.

Maryland: MDOT SHA strictly follows the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which provides lane closure, flagging, temporary traffic control devices and standards. The Maryland manual can be found here

Additionally, MDOT SHA implemented a temporary traffic control inspection rating system. Through this system, the work zone inspector rates the work zone to make sure all of the temporary traffic control devices are correctly placed. MDOT SHA’s temporary traffic control devices are processed independently to ensure the devices’ effectiveness and that they meet the standards to protect work zone crews.MDOT SHA strictly follows the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which provides lane closure, flagging, temporary traffic control devices and standards. The Maryland manual can be found here

Additionally, MDOT SHA implemented a temporary traffic control inspection rating system. Through this system, the work zone inspector rates the work zone to make sure all of the temporary traffic control devices are correctly placed. MDOT SHA’s temporary traffic control devices are processed independently to ensure the devices’ effectiveness and that they meet the standards to protect work zone crews.

Wisconsin: WisDOT field staff are required to receive training on many subjects. Some initiatives related to work zone safety involve the increasing use of technology:

- Smart work zones

- Speed feedback signs

- Lane Closure System

In addition, the following efforts are part of WisDOT’s focus on safety in work zones:

- Freeway Service Teams to remove vehicles in a timely fashion

- Law enforcement mitigation

- Speed limit reductions

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