(WFXR) — Monday marked the first day that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is observing National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW) for 2022, but Wednesday is “Go Orange Day,” providing Virginians the perfect opportunity to support work zone crews by donning an orange outfit.

From Monday, April 11 through Friday, April 15, VDOT is recognizing state employees and contractors who risk their lives on a daily basis to keep Virginians moving.

Throughout the week, VDOT says it will alert drivers to the trend of increasing highway work zone fatalities, which rose from 11 fatalities in 2020 to 28 in 2021. Of those 28 people who died in Virginia work zones last year — who VDOT honored with a traffic cone display — 26 were motorists and two were workers.

Officials tell WFXR News that 85% of lives lost in work zones around the country are motorists or passengers, not road workers.

According to the department, this year’s theme — which was inspired by a VDOT crew leader in the Bristol district — is “Work Zones are a Sign to Slow Down,” which highlights the risk for highway workers while also emphasizing drivers’ responsibility to reduce speed and pay attention, making work zones safe for everyone. 

“Behind the barrels and signs, highway workers are standing inches away from traffic as they improve our roads. They are sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. They are neighbors, coaches, and friends. Their mission is to keep you, your passengers, and cargo safe while traveling across the 125,000 miles of roadway in Virginia,” said Gov. Glenn Youngkin. “I want all Virginians and visitors to arrive safely at their destination. Please slow down and pay careful attention at the first sign of a work zone.” 

Officials say VDOT developed awareness materials for this year’s “Work Zones are a Sign to Slow Down” campaign seeking to reduce work zone fatalities and injuries. Those materials are being shared with transportation industry leaders, associations, and other state transportation agencies in order to save lives

For example, online resources reportedly explain the most common work zone signs and messages drivers will see when they are approaching and traveling through a work zone.

“This week, let’s recognize VDOT workers’ service and sacrifice to build, maintain, and operate our roads, bridges, and tunnels. Work zones can be challenging for motorists to navigate, with construction equipment, lane closures, and traffic pattern changes. We want to keep everyone safe, whether you’re working on the road or traveling on one,” said Secretary of Transportation Shep Miller. 

Officials say VDOT’s workforce consists of more than 7,500 employees and contractors who are committed to travelers’ safety.

“The men and women of VDOT are working to improve and maintain roads that lead all Virginians home. Our crews and contractors want to go home at the end of the day, too,” said Virginia Commissioner of Highways Stephen Brich. “VDOT is leading a new effort to educate drivers on how to safely navigate a work zone not only to protect our employees and private partners, but all travelers in the Commonwealth.”

Since 1997, VDOT says the Commonwealth has been leading the way to raise awareness of the challenges both road workers and drivers encounter in a work zone.

In 1997, a group of VDOT employees in the Bristol District wanted to dedicate a week to raise awareness about work zone safety among all district employees before road work increased in the spring. Following the successful promotion of the first event, VDOT shared the idea to have similar messaging with other DOTs to promote a uniform set of safety tips. Since 1999, National Work Zone Awareness Week has been observed across the United States. 

Virginia Department of Transportation

VDOT will reportedly continue working with other state transportation departments, federal government agencies, national road safety organizations, private companies, and industry leaders to educate travelers on work zone safety.

Here are some ways you can join VDOT in observing NWZAW:

  • Monday, April 11: Work Zone Safety Training Day, which is the perfect time to start a conversation about safety.
  • Tuesday, April 12: NWZAW Kick-Off Event
    • As the host transportation department for the 2022 NWZAW kickoff event, VDOT says it will welcome guests on Tuesday to one of the largest infrastructure projects in the country, the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel Expansion Project. 
    • “Construction of the new two-lane twin tunnels across the Chesapeake Bay will create 28,000 jobs over the life of the project with a total economic impact of $5.3 billion for the entire Commonwealth,” VDOT stated. “The $3.8 billion project will increase capacity on Interstate 64 and enhance travel time reliability in a congested corridor along Virginia’s coastal area. It will also support the region’s emergency evacuation readiness by carrying eight lanes of traffic across the water.”
  • Wednesday, April 13: Go Orange Day, so you are encouraged to wear orange and share your support of work zone safety by posting pictures on social media with #GoOrangeDayVA.
  • Thursday, April 14: Social media storm, which is when you are asked to help share the same work zone safety reminder as other DOTs across the country to amplify the message at 1 p.m. — “When you approach a work zone, be alert while we work. REMEMBER: Work zones are a sign to slow down. Driving is the ONLY thing you should be doing behind the wheel.” 
  • Friday, April 15: Moment of silence at 10 a.m. to remember those who lost their lives in a work zone incident. 

You are also encouraged to follow VDOT on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well as show your support by liking, sharing, and posting with the hashtag #NWZAW — as well as #GoOrangeDay if you’re wearing your best and brightest orange ensemble in support of work zone crews on Wednesday.

In honor of NWZAW, VDOT also shared the following tips to safely navigate work zones:

  • Stay alert
  • Slow down 
  • Use caution
  • Follow the signs.
    • Signs and flaggers will direct you through work zones. Expect changes in traffic patterns as a project progresses.
  • Watch out for workers and slow-moving equipment
  • Allow extra space between your vehicle and the one in front of you
  • Expect speed limits to vary in work zones.
    • Enhanced fines of up to $500 may be levied for speeding in a work zone.
  • Be patient. Crews are working to improve the safety and comfort of your travels.
  • Never change lanes in a work zone
  • Know before you go.
    • Before starting a trip, visit 511Virginia.org for real-time information on traffic, lane closures, work zones. and incidents.
    • You can also download the free mobile 511Virginia app, or call 511 from any phone in Virginia.