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Gov. Whitmer: Orange work zone cones represent people

Michigan officials hold official kickoff of National Work Zone Awareness Week

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wore a button depicting the face of Brandyn Spychalski on her orange suit jacket as she spoke at the national kickoff for National Work Zone Awareness Week today.

She urged everyone to recognize that orange work zone cones represent people and to “see the humanity” of one another.

“This is not a hassle. This is not a distraction. This is a workplace,” Whitmer said of roadway work zones. “Each of us deserves to be safe in the workplace.”

National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW) started on Monday with events being held across the country this week to raise awareness of the importance of work zone safety. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) hosted this year’s kickoff event, which was livestreamed.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Acting Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration Stephanie Pollack provided recorded statements to open the event, encouraging people to be alert in work zones and to not tailgate or text and drive.

The button Whitmer wore was in memory of Brandyn Spychalski, who died in January 2020 as the result of a work zone incident in Michigan.

Brandyn’s mother, Leslie Fonzi-Lynch, also spoke at the event, recounting the 281 days her son spent in the hospital and a rehabilitation facility following the June 2017 incident at his paving site in Bay City, Mich., that led to his death.

Spychalski was injured 24 days after celebrating his 27th birthday. His daughter, Khloe, is now 5 years old, doesn’t understand what happened and thinks the cemetery where she visits his grave is heaven, Fonzi-Lynch said.

Fonzi-Lynch also implored people to slow down for work zones and pay attention.

Stephanie Boileau, president of the Michigan ATSSA Chapter and a highway engineer with the Chippewa County (Mich.) Road Commission, introduced Fonzi-Lynch. Boileau noted that six work zone workers died in Michigan in 2020, including Spychalski, and one already this year. She asked the crowd assembled in Macomb County at the site of an M-59 Rebuilding Michigan Project to observe a moment of silence for each of them.

MDOT Director Paul Ajegba read the names of the men killed, two of whom were killed in the county where the event was held.

Boileau noted the National Work Zone Memorial on display and the more than 1,500 names included on it. She encouraged the state officials assembled to include the Association and roadway workers in the conversation as they develop policy to protect roadway workers.

Many of the public officials taking part in today’s ceremony wore orange, a nod to work zones and a reminder of Wednesday, which is “Go Orange Day” when people are encouraged to wear the color as a reminder to be alert for roadway work zones.

Several people also repeated this year’s theme: Drive Safe. Work Safe. Save Lives.

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