ADOT workers on South Mountain Freeway muscle through the summer heat

Scott Effing (center) talks to David Stanford (left) and Antonio Salazar at a South Mountain Freeway construction site at Washington Street and 59th Avenue. Predawn starts are necessary to limit time in the sun. (Photo by Ellen O’Brien/Cronkite News)

Connect 202 workers erect a bridge over railroad tracks at Washington Street and 59th Avenue. Temperatures at construction sites can reach up to 20 degrees higher than ambient temperatures. (Photo by Ellen O’Brien/Cronkite News)

David Stanford (left) jokes with Antonio Salazar. The Arizona Department of Transportation has implemented a buddy system so workers can recognize heat-stress symptoms in one another. (Photo by Ellen O’Brien/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The Arizona Department of Transportation is pushing ahead on construction of the South Mountain Freeway, even through 115-degree temperatures, by ensuring its workers remain safe and hydrated.

The long-envisioned project, which began in early 2017, is meant to cut congestion and drive times in central Phoenix by diverting traffic off Interstate 10 onto a 22-mile route south of South Mountain. ADOT officials predict it will shave an hour off travel times when the freeway is finished late next year.

However, ADOT’s primary focus during the harsh summer is keeping its 1,500 workers safe while continuing the multimillion dollar extension of Loop 202 around South Mountain.

“ADOT, its employees and contractors have to be diligent in monitoring for signs of heat-illness and use common sense,” said Julie Gadsby, assistant district engineer on the South Mountain Freeway team.

Officials said all workers are thoroughly trained to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and how to prevent or treat them. They also are required to use a buddy system so they can look for these signs in fellow workers.

Construction workers build a retaining wall as part of the South Mountain Freeway project, a 22-mile extension of the Loop 202. (Photo by Ellen O’Brien/Cronkite News)

ADOT also provides hard-hat shades, cooling towels and neck shades, and it keeps awnings and air-conditioned vehicles on hand when possible. In addition, workers are given electrolyte packets.

Construction workers face many on-job hazards, said David Stanford, safety manager at one of the construction sites for the South Mountain Freeway, but combating heat-illness is the one employees are warned about most.

“During the summer, everyone knows it’s hot, and it’s hot early,” Stanford said. “Everyone learns what this symptom is, what that symptom is, what the instate hazard is and how to mitigate that. We reiterate it throughout the year.”

Employees begin their shifts much earlier, often before the break of dawn, to avoid prolonged periods outdoors.
ADOT spokesman Dustin Krugel said all these precautions are necessary.

“The heat is not going to stop construction progress on the South Mountain Freeway,” he said. “Our workers are trained to deal with this type of heat, and it’s really important that they know the dangers of heat. Thus far through the almost two years of construction, we have not had any heat-safety incidents.”

The South Mountain Freeway will link to Interstate 10 at 51st Avenue in the West valley, wrap around South Mountain and reconnect to I-10 at Loop 202 in the East Valley.

“It’s really going to help relieve some of the traffic that you see in the Valley,” Krugel said, adding that it also should boost businesses in the fast-growing area.

More information and an up-to-date map of the freeway can be found here.

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