Monday, April 8 kicked off National Work Zone Awareness Week, an annual campaign to encourage drivers to use extra caution when driving through highway work zones. On the same day, two Illinois Tollway workers from the M-8 garage came to the rescue of a stranded female motorist who got a flat tire during afternoon rush hour traffic on I-88. The stranded motorist also happens to be an employee of Teamsters Local 700. Here is her account of what happened:
On Monday, April 8, 2019, I was driving home from work like any other day and had just gotten onto the I-88 West lanes from I-294 South. I do not recall hitting anything in the road, but remember going over what seemed like a very small speed bump as I was going around the curve. What came next was a hissing-like sound of air releasing beneath me and my car started to slow down. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a shoulder to rely on due to the retention walls, so I put my hazard lights on and tried to get as far past the walls as I could to pull over, but I ended up blocking a full lane of rush hour traffic.
Ted Rowley, the business agent that represents the Tollway workers, called the employees that he knew were on the HELP truck nearby, and told them my exact location. As I was talking with Ted, passing motorists were honking at me, and each other. I was watching in my rear view mirror as I almost got sideswiped and clipped a few times.
From my initial call with Ted, it was about 10 minutes until I looked up and saw the HELP sign on the truck with sirens on, cutting through traffic to get to me. I felt an immediate sense of relief, and all the panic I was feeling stopped. As soon as he got out of the truck, I recognized Nick Juliano from previous union meetings, and he told me to stay in the car while he jacked it up and got the spare out of the back. Scott Gurschke came around to make sure I was okay and started working on getting the tire off and putting the spare on. Meanwhile, I glanced back as he was on the ground and saw cars flying by him just inches away. The pair had me on my way in five minutes flat.
As an employee of Teamsters Local 700, I have witnessed many passionate conversations about the very important and dangerous work that the Illinois Tollway workers are responsible for. Many have gotten hit, but not all have survived. Witnessing them work in these conditions first-hand really made me appreciate all of them so much more than I already had, and I am so thankful for them and the service they provided. Both Nick and Scott put me at ease in a somewhat scary situation and risked their own safety to help me get home safely. I will continue to use the Illinois Tollway knowing that Nick, Scott and so many others who do the same job have my back out there.
This year’s National Work Zone Awareness Week theme is “Drive Like You Work Here,” reminding motorists that the highways and roads are the “offices” of many state workers and construction crews.
On average, about 150 people are killed nationally in construction zone accidents. IDOT has reported that five out of six crashes kill drivers and their passengers. Since January, two Illinois State Troopers have been killed while working. Workers and the Illinois State Police are begging people to put down their phones and pay attention.
“From Tollway and IDOT workers to the Illinois State Police Master Sergeants, many of our members that have been out working on the highways have shared their stories of almost being hit, or being hit and being fortunate enough to walk away,” said Teamsters Local 700 President Michael G. Melone. “And then there are those we have lost that weren’t as lucky. The aftermath of these avoidable accidents and the pain that the families carry for the rest of their lives is unbearable. We can all do our part to protect our state and county workers by driving slower through these work zones and not being distracted while on the road.”
To learn more about National Work Zone Awareness Week, please visit www.nwzaw.org.