On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Jeff talks with:
Ron Jackson, MDOT maintenance coordinator in the Taylor Transportation Service Center, about what it’s like maintaining some of the state’s busiest freeways during the COVID-19 outbreak. Ron and Jeff also talk about how his workers stay safe.
Also, this week is National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week. Courtney Bates, who coordinates safety messaging in the MDOT Office of Communications, talks about the challenges in this year’s campaign because of the pandemic and creative efforts to share the message.
First, Ron talks about the importance of maintenance work and his compelling video to launch MDOT’s new Selfies From the Field series, an occasional feature highlighting transportation workers who clear debris from roads, mitigate washouts from flooding, patch potholes, and inspect repairs during this time of crisis. They support thousands of healthcare workers traveling to their double shifts at hospitals, truck drivers who haul our bread, milk, meat, and vegetables to the grocery store, and the people who stock the shelves and those who ring us out. Transportation workers do their jobs so all the other essential workers are able to do theirs. #MDOTSelfiesFromTheField
Ron is also the MDOT’s Metro Region safety officer, and he talks about methods he employs to emphasize to maintenance crews the dangers inherent in working near traffic.
Staying safe in work zones takes on special significance this week with the annual national campaign to make drivers aware of the men and women working on the roads and bridges we rely on everyday.
An MDOT video pays tribute to critical infrastructure workers and the importance to stay alert in work zones.
Courtney talks about her work with MDOT’s work zone safety team to prepare to host this year’s national event, which was canceled because of COVID-19. The event had been planned for the American Center for Mobility, dovetailing this year’s “We Can Do It” theme with the center’s former life as the Willow Run assembly plant and “Arsenal of Democracy,” converted from auto manufacturing during World War II to famously crank out more than one B-24 bomber per hour. The folk hero Rosie the Riveter is also part of the plant’s lore. View more photos of the era in this Detroit News gallery.
Also discussed: creation of the poster that honors the men and women working on the roads in the spirit of Michigan’s labor legacy.
Narrator: It's time for Talking Michigan Transportation, a podcast devoted to the conversations with people at the forefront of the ongoing mobility revolution. In the state that put the world on wheels, here's your host, MDOT Communications Director Jeff Cranson.
Jeff Cranson: Hi, and welcome to another edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast. Today, I'm pleased to be speaking with Ron Jackson, who is the maintenance coordinator at the Taylor Transportation Service Center for MDOT, supervising the maintenance activities on some of the state's busiest freeways in Metro Detroit. I wanted to have Ron on especially, because of the challenges that his workforce is facing, given the COVID-19 outbreak, and the need to keep the roads maintained as safely as possible, and keep them clear for the other essential workers who have to get to their jobs, either in the healthcare industry, or as first responders, or truck drivers, or people stocking the grocery shelves, or checking us out at the grocery store, and Ron was kind enough to participate in a feature that we launched on our MDOT social media feeds last week called Selfies from the Field, where he was out on a freeway, where a guardrail had been badly damaged by a crash, and he talked about, you know, why that needed to be fixed right away and why that presents a danger. After that, I'm going to be talking with Courtney Bates, who works in the MDOT Office of Communications, and has had a significant hand in this year's National Work Zone Safety Awareness campaign that was to be hosted in Michigan, but couldn't be because of the COVID-19 outbreak, and they had to do some quick thinking on the fly to still have a campaign without an actual event to kick it off, and Courtney was very instrumental in the creative thinking that went into that. First, we're going to be talking with Ron, so thanks for taking time to do this today. We value your work more than ever now during these times and keeping the roads clear, so that people that have to get to their jobs can do so. You did what I thought was a very compelling video, you provided to us last week, to talk about the importance of the maintenance work, and what you do, can you just kind of expand on that, and why you think it's so important?
Ron Jackson: Well, we have so many different projects going on in the field that some people look at as it's just an everyday job, but these projects are so important for us to go out and make sure that we are taking care of it, for the safety of our motoring public, you know, so make sure they're safe, and our roadways are safe, and everything else around, that they can get back home safe and sound.
Jeff Cranson: Well, you talked in that, you know, video, in that in particular, you found a badly damaged guardrail, and had to go out and inspect it yourself, so that your crews could make the repairs on it. And just talk a little bit about why that— because somebody might think, well, is that really essential that a guard rail repaired?
Ron Jackson: Oh definitely, it’s very important to get that guardrail repaired. If someone else would hit that guardrail it could cause more damage. When the guard rails installed, they're installed to receive a hit and take the impact of a hit, so if the beginning of the guardrail is damaged, and it gets hit again, it doesn't serve the same purpose of the safety of the next vehicle to hit it, so I make sure I go out and write them up and get them done. I try to get down within fourteen day, to go out and get it repaired, so we can get it done as quick as possible for the safety of the public.
Jeff Cranson: And what else is involved in maintenance, and your job coordinating maintenance on some of the state's, you know, busiest freeways in Metro Detroit, besides obviously looking at things like guardrails?
Ron Jackson: We go out—for example a fence, we do a lot of fence repairs, especially the fencing along the bike path. Right now, with everyone, with the staying home enforcement, a lot of people are using the bike path along I-275, and there's quite a few accidents along I-275 that vehicles are riding off, and damaging the fence, and the fences are laying on the bike path, so we make sure go out and fix that. Large potholes are people driving and they hit a pothole they can lose control of the vehicle and cause an accident. We have the high winds that we have right now. I received two or three phone calls just within the last two weeks of trees that have fallen across the bike path, and along the freeways, and the roadways. We have to go out and make sure we remove the trees and make sure everything is safe.
Jeff Cranson: So, that's a really good point that, you know, I wouldn't have thought of, but since people are being encouraged to get out and still get their exercise, obviously at a safe distance, that path is more important than ever right now, and when you talking about that section of I-275, I know a lot of is supposed to be rebuilt under the Governor's Rebuilding Michigan plan, and you probably can't see it soon enough given the condition of that road.
Ron Jackson: Oh, yes, I cannot wait. It has been—spent a lot of extra money on that, road patching it and re-patching it, and doing projects out there, concrete patch, asphalt patch, hot mix asphalt (HMA), so it's going to be a great, great project MDOT’s going to do real soon here.
Jeff Cranson: Yeah, so, um, you take a lot of pride in your work, obviously.
Ron Jackson: Yes.
Jeff Cranson: And that's great, talk about why that is, what is it that gives you the satisfaction?
Ron Jackson: Oh man, I love my job. Anytime anyone asks me where I work, I tell them I work for the state of Michigan. They look at me like wow, state of Michigan. I said no, I love my job. I love being out on the roadways, making sure people are safe, you know, my own family, making sure to think about my family. What I want my family – how do I want them to be safe, and I just extend that to all my family, that's everyone in the state of Michigan to me as my family, when it comes to running on the roadways. I have to make sure everything is safe. It’s so funny, my wife and I will be riding around in our personal vehicle, and I’ll see something, and I will say something. She said will you please stop.
Jeff Cranson: [Laughing]
Ron Jackson: I said I can’t, you know, I’m on the clock when I’m not even on the clock. I see guardrail damages, or bridges, or fence, or pothole and I'll, you know, when we get to our destination I'll text or email someone, and make sure it's taken care of the next day, so it's like an ongoing thing with me at first being a transportation business coordinator, it’s like this a 24-hour job. I'm also on call, I get phone calls at three, two o'clock in the morning, you know, different accidents and things like on expressways, and to make sure I take pride in my job, to make sure everything is done.
Jeff Cranson: Well, it's because of people like you that we launched this feature, you know, last week to recognize the vital work that you guys are doing, that you have to be out there in the field when, you know, when a lot of people are able to work at home, obviously.
Ron Jackson: Right.
Jeff Cranson: And, you know, we greatly appreciate it those of us that use the roads, and certainly first responders, and people working in grocery stores, and truckers and, you know, all kinds of people, people that drive buses appreciate having a safe transportation networking. What you're doing is it particularly challenging now, I mean, do you find that you wrestle with that a little bit, like feeling like, gosh, I got to get out there and work knowing that a lot of people are staying home?
Ron Jackson: Um, at first it did, but not now because I look at it – I’m going to be honest with you, working on the side of the road now it’s actually safer. It's less vehicles on the side of, you know, traveling up and down our freeways and roadways. It can be kind of scary sometimes, you sit on the side of roads, there’s only twelve feet between you, when you sit on a shoulder, between you and a lot of people driving past you, and going very at very high rates of speed. I can't tell you how many times where I really thought I was going to get hit, you know, cars within a foot of me because they came up to the shoulder, so with less vehicles being out on the roadway it's actually safer.
Jeff Cranson: That really sets up nicely the other thing I wanted to talk about, because this is National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week and those of you – I mean that's geared, obviously, toward a lot of the people that are doing the contract work in the field, but it certainly applies to you and your fellas and what you guys do.
Ron Jackson: Yes, yup, I talked to state police officer once, he's told me for every ten cars pass by you maybe only three of them saw you sitting on side of the road, and when he told me then I was like wow, you know, that's amazing, you know, either they're not paying attention on the phone, or listening to music, or intoxicated on drugs, or whatever, so the most important thing is for us to see them, to make sure we put ourselves in a situation where we're safe. Not only am I the transportation maintenance coordinator, I’m also the Metro region safety officer, so when I do my training to new employees, I've told them to make sure that they are aware of their surroundings, to make sure they're safe, don't ever think that you are 100% safe sitting on the side a road, so watch where you park your vehicle, you're walking on the shoulders, can you walk behind the guardrail versus walking on the shoulders, so all these things are so important to make sure we go the extra mile, that all our employees, 100% of employees that come to work every day make it back home safe and sound to their family.
Jeff Cranson: So, that's a challenge for you because you get these young people, men and women, who feel like, you know, they're invincible, and nothing's ever going happen to them, and you have to keep reminding them that you're doing a dangerous job, and you've got to be careful, so how do you how do you make that fresh every day?
Ron Jackson: Um, I stop by a lot of job sites, so once new employees come in, the safety team, the Metro region safety team that does, they do an awesome job. I have a whole team that’s with me. When the new employees come in, we sit down, we have a conversation with them, and throughout the summer, I'll go to job sites and I'll pop in on a job site and I’ll talk to them. If I see someone doing something wrong, I’ll pull over, and I’ll tell them why don’t you have your right glasses on, or do you have the right vest on, and I’ll ask them why are you standing so close to the road, and they say, ‘oh, it’s going to take a minute to do it.’ Well, you’re only going to take a minute to do this job, you only could take a second to lose your life, so do you want to take a minute to do this job or do you want to see your families you for, you know, for many, many years to come, so it's bad to say sometimes you have to put things out there really raw for young people to understand how important it is not to be texting and driving, and to understand what's around you, and be aware of your surroundings.
Jeff Cranson: Yeah, that's exactly right. I mean, it's the same thing that we face, and that the Office of Highway Safety Planning faces, trying to come up with messages that, you know, that will resonate and get through to younger people especially.
Ron Jackson: Yes.
Jeff Cranson: Well, I guess I'm thinking, you know, long-term we're going to get back to normal at some point, and, you know, things are going to are going to return normal and that traffic is going to be back. I just want to say thank you for doing what you do. We appreciate it and I really appreciate you participating in our project. I have to tell you that your submission that was one of my favorites, and we're going to include it in the show notes with this podcast too, so, Ron, thanks a lot, I appreciate it.
Ron Jackson: No problem, thank you.
Jeff Cranson: Take care. Okay, as promised for the second portion today, we're going to pick up where we left off with Ron Jackson, talking about work zone safety, and I'm pleased to have Courtney Bates, who works in the Office of Communications at MDOT, and was deeply involved in planning a campaign that had to change on the fly, like so many things because of the COVID-19 outbreak, but work zone safety is something that she's put a lot of time into, and become our liaison for the communications office, involved in all kinds of communications efforts about work zone safety, and we had a pretty good plan this year that had to be greatly revised, I guess, is the kindest way to put it. So, Courtney you talk about it a little bit and why work zone safety has become an interest of yours.
Courtney Bates: Sure, Thanks, Jeff. So, I’ve been working with traffic and safety and work zone safety for a few years now, and it's an important event for all of us, especially all of our workers at MDOT, and just protecting people.
Jeff Cranson: Let's talk about this year's poster. The theme was ‘We can do it,’ and it was a send-up on Rosie the Riveter, to honor that slogan that came out of World War II, when the Willow Run auto factory was converted into a bomber plant, literally the arsenal of democracy for the United States in World War II, and that Rosie the Riveter legend that grew out of there inspired our poster, and you've got a couple of people, you know, posing in that look from that era, and, you know how, did that come to be?
Courtney Bates: Well, when we found out we would be hosting the event in Michigan, we started looking around for places that we thought would be big enough to hold an event, large enough for what we were thinking, like a thousand people, and we came across Willow Run, and we liked the theme and the idea that, you know, we could do safe work zones for all. That we're protecting our workers, and our road users, everybody that uses the road, because we know that more people are killed as a passenger, or a driver, or another type of road user, more often than our workers are, so we want to protect all of them. To go to that point, we thought it was good that we would show the strength of our construction workforce, and we really just enjoyed the idea of Willow Run, and tying the poster back to the iconic Willow Run Rosie the Riveter poster with our, you know, construction workers and engineers showing, you know, strength and power and things of those nature.
Jeff Cranson: And it's a wonderful poster. It's a great theme. A very talented graphic artist at MDOT, Brian Whitfield, created it and, you know, the downside, obviously, is that we didn't get to have an event at the Willow Run facility, the American Center for Mobility now, with the governor, but Lamar Advertising, an outdoor advertising firm, donated several billboards that feature that poster, so people are seeing at least that around the state, and that's probably helping both with awareness and to recognize the importance of it.
Courtney Bates: Yeah, that's correct, and to go back – just to give a little bit of props to our models, you know, Rob Pearson and Maria Habba, from our Passenger Transportation Division, served as our models for this, and I think they did an outstanding job. They've gotten a lot of great compliments on it, and it's been nice. Although we haven't been able to hold the event, we've been getting a lot of positive feedback on the poster so far, and it's just a little bit, it’s different than what has been done in years past with, you know, a normal construction zone, which just gave it a little bit of a pop, and it tied it back to, like you said, that ACM and where we focus on testing, validation, and connected and automated vehicles. and other technologies, so it’s just an all-around really neat poster, and basically that we can all do our part and we can do it to, you know, for everyone that drives through it.
Jeff Cranson: Well, this also has added resonance in Michigan this year because, after several years, I think, without a worker death, we had two in a relatively short amount of time in 2019. Two different people working for contract agencies that were killed, and we also had an MDOT employee, maintenance worker, killed on the roadside, so all those things kind of came close together.
Courtney Bates: Absolutely, our preliminary numbers are seventeen work zone fatal crashes this year, and three of those being our own employees, and when I say that I mean our contractors and our own MDOT employee, three is just still too many. Seventeen is too many, we just want to get that number down to zero, which is always part of our achieve zero deaths on our roads goal, the TZD, the toward zero deaths, so that's really important, and slowing down, you know, driving safely, putting down the devices, things of those nature's, you know, can help provide safer work zones for everybody that driving through or working in them.
Jeff Cranson: And I will include in the show notes a link to the previous podcast, with Lindsey Renner from MDOT, talking specifically about work zone safety, and what her area does on that front. It was recorded shortly after those crashes, so, well, thanks Courtney. This is good, I think it's helpful, and I'm really sorry that you don’t get to have the event, and do all the things that you had planned for, but there's lots of things that aren't happening that we thought would by now, for obvious reasons.
Courtney Bates: Yeah, it’s definitely disappointing not to have the event, but the interesting and good news is that we’re going to get another go at it next year, so hopefully we'll have a good campaign again next year that Michigan will be hosting, and for the national kickoff, and maybe it'll be just as good as this one.
Jeff Cranson: Thanks again for listening to this week's edition of Talking Michigan Transportation, and I want to give a special thanks to Cory Petee, who does the sound engineering for the podcast, and to Sarah Martin, of MDOT, who does the show's intro and closing.
Narrator: That's a wrap for this edition of Talking Michigan Transportation. Check out show notes and more on Soundcloud, or by subscribing on Apple podcast you.