Aruna Miller

On March 22, 2023, two cars traveling at excessive speeds on the I-695 inner loop in Baltimore, Md., struck each other, with the impact sending one vehicle through an opening of a concrete work zone barrier on the center median shoulder. Six workers hit by the out-of-control car were pronounced dead at the scene. Both drivers were charged with multiple counts of manslaughter, and a federal investigation into the incident is ongoing. One of the drivers pleaded guilty Jan. 3 to six counts in a state court; the other faces 28 charges in a trial set to start April 1.

Losing so many lives in a single incident lent new urgency in Maryland, and in other states, to addressing the many risks that highway construction workers face daily. Within weeks, Gov. Wes Moore (D) formed a 27-member work group, including highway engineers, law enforcement officials, labor and industry leaders and state highway agency staff, tasked with examining ways to improve work zone safety for workers and motorists.

Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D), a degreed civil engineer, was the obvious choice to chair the team. In a career that includes 25 years with the Montgomery County, Md., Dept. of Transportation, she has seen firsthand how standard safety practices go only so far to protect workers from reckless and distracted drivers. “It’s not a matter of if, but when,” she says, adding that while the horrific crash drew national headlines, Maryland recorded a total of 1,100 work zone incidents and seven fatalities in 2023. Adds Miller: “That’s why all stakeholders felt the urgency to address this immediately.”

The team drew on input from technical experts and the public to craft 15 regulatory and operational recommendations in education, engineering and enforcement that Moore formally accepted in December.

crashed car

Following high speed crash by car into highway work zone, killing six, Maryland Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D) led a team that announced new safety recommendations for sites in the state.
Photo courtesy of Maryland Governor’s Office

Very important to Miller was inclusion on the panel of Concrete General Inc., employer of five victims—Rolando Ruiz, Carlos Orlando Villatoro Escobar, Jose Armando Escobar, Mahlon Simmons III and Mahlon Simmons II—and of KCI Technologies Inc., employer of Sybil Lee Dimaggio. “We believe those who are closest to the challenge are closest to the solution,” Miller says. “They’re the ones who are going to tell us what they need and what we can do to improve things.”

Some measures, such as expanded use of automated speed camera enforcement and resolved disparities in work zone speeding penalties, require state legislative action that Miller is confident she will get. Others, particularly those aimed at motorist culture change, are in process. They include investing $500,000 in work zone safety awareness training for both new and experienced drivers. “We also want to continually explore ways to make work zones safer,” she says, citing potential measures such as additional reflective gear, shared best practices among construction workers and new equipment to prevent work zone intrusions.

Moore says the state is fortunate to have Miller leading safety improvements for motorists and construction crews. As with any challenge, the key to making work zones safer is collaboration, she notes. “Every individual regardless of background offers great insights into solutions,” Miller says, adding that the best solutions will come “when you bring as many people as you can to the table.”

All ENR 2023 Top 25 Newsmakers will be honored at the Award of Excellence Gala on April 11 in New York City.