Until now, there’s been no official site to honor state road workers who died on the job.
But after months of planning and hard work, the situation is changing.
A statewide Fallen Highway Worker Memorial will be officially unveiled and dedicated today, as a way to honor those who lost their lives while working.
West Virginia Division of Highways and other top state officials, including Gov. Jim Justice and Secretary of Transportation Tom Smith, have been invited to attend the 10 a.m. service, said agency spokesperson Carrie Jones.
The statue will be unveiled at the I-77 Williamstown Welcome Center, and will include the names of 49 workers.
Invitations were also sent to more than 100 family members of deceased workers, and employees are expected to be in the audience.
Without giving away too much, Jones said the monument is physically striking since it is over 9 feet tall and weighs more than 1,200 pounds.
West Virginia native and sculptor Jamie Lester of Vandalia Bronze created the life-like piece of art depicting a worker.
Employees suggested more than 20 design ideas for it, and that was another important part of this project, Jones said.
He created the statue of the late actor and Morgantown native Don Knotts, and the Jerry West statue outside the West Virginia University Coliseum. Additionally, he designed the obverse side of the West Virginia State Commemorative Quarter depicting the New River Gorge Bridge.
“He’s a West Virginia guy, and he gets it. He knows how much this means to so many people in the state,” she said.
In the beginning, it was the DOH family that determined something needed to be done to remember lost employees.
District 3 coworkers were especially touched by the death of Randy Bland, and began to look for a way to honor fallen employees as well as promote highway safety.
Bland, 49, was a construction worker when he was struck and fatally injured by a vehicle in a Wood County work zone.
He died shortly after the June 1, 2015, accident involving an out-of-control tanker truck on U.S. Route 50 near Dutch Ridge Road.
His coworkers formed a committee and its members discovered there was nothing statewide to honor men and women who shared a similar tragic fate.
That’s where the idea originated to construct a memorial to honor all state highway workers who died performing their jobs, Jones said.
The problem was that there was no definitive record of these deaths over the years.
As part of this organizing effort, staffers combed records for names of deceased employees and also asked the public to provide this information.
The also talked to other employees who’d been part of the agency for several years while seeking possible nominees.
In the end, the memorial includes workers killed on the job who were active full-time or part-time employees of the Division of Highways, Department of Highways or the State Road Commission.
The new monument will include employees who died from 1921 to the present.
That includes longtime-DOH engineer Glen Lough, who was killed on the job June 27 when the state vehicle he was riding in was hit by another vehicle on Interstate 79.
Lough, 47, a 25-year agency veteran, was with two other workers heading back to Charleston when the wreck happened.
The trio were traveling south in Kanawha County when a northbound driver switched lanes and crashed into the state vehicle.
This kind of tragedy never gets easier to hear or accept.
Hopefully the new memorial will be a reminder about what’s at stake in work zones.
“We have left names for additional names that may be suggested as more people learn about this memorial. But we are hoping with more attention from drivers to work zone safety there won’t be any additional names from accidents in the future,” she said.