This year’s Work Zone Awareness Week is dedicated to a Baton Rouge worker who lost his life on the new Mississippi River bridge in late March, the head of the state transportation department told legislators Tuesday.
Jim Gilmer, a state Motorist Assistance Patrol employee, was killed March 25 when his vehicle was struck by an 18-wheeler while he was removing debris on the Interstate 10 bridge over the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge.
Gilmer was then struck by the MAP 2011 Ford F250 pickup, which had its emergency lights flashing, according to Baton Rouge Police Department. The crash closed westbound lanes of I-10 for almost three hours.
“We’ve got to pay attention while we’re driving,” said Sherri LeBas, secretary of the state Department of Transportation and Development, called DOTD.
LeBas is touring the state to draw attention to Work Zone Awareness Week, which Gov. Bobby Jindal declared in a proclamation as running Monday through Friday. She testified before the House Committee for Transportation, Highways and Public Works on Tuesday.
DOTD has dedicated this year’s work zone awareness activities in honor of Gilmer and his service to the department, LeBas said.
Transportation Committee Chairwoman Karen St Germain, D-Pierre Part, said she was on the bridge a minute or two after Gilmer was hit.
“There are some things we can do a whole lot better if you’re driving slower,” St Germain said.
LaBas said that the latest statistics count 302 motor-vehicle fatalities in Louisiana’s work zones since 1989, and most recently, 13 deaths and 1,002 injuries in Louisiana in 2011.
“These numbers upset me,” LeBas said.
Drivers need to slow down when entering a construction zone, pay attention to the signs and respect the workers, LeBas said.
“Each day, our troopers witness the devastating effects of distracted driving,” State Police Superincent Col. Mike Edmonson said. “We ask that drivers do their part, by obeying the rules of the road.”
A memorial display of 590 safety cones is placed on the front lawn of the DOTD Headquarters Building, next to the Governor’s Mansion, to recognize those who lost their lives in work zones nationwide. Similar cone memorials will be erected in other areas around the state.