Colorado Public Works Journal, Spring 2023

SPRING 2023┃51 Industry Insights feature by Sean O’Keefe As Director of Maintenance and Operations for the Colorado Department of Transportation since March 2020, John Lorme demonstrates a dedication to the job the people of Colorado should appreciate. Even with a nationwide winter storm bearing down, John took some time to talk to the Colorado Public Works Journal about Work Zone Safety in Colorado. “I’ve been with CDOT for eight years, and today I oversee the statewide maintenance and operations program,” says Lorme from his office/ command center at CDOT’s central Denver HQ. Before joining CDOT, Lorme spent 28 years in the U.S. Army as a Ranger until he retired as a Senior Non-commissioned Officer in 2015. The Army proved to be a tenacious training ground for life in infrastructure management. “One of the things about CDOT that is unique is that our Transportation System Management and Operations (TSMO) and Highway Maintenance Division are fully unified under my leadership. I’m connected to my peers in most other states, and I think Colorado is the only state with this level of synergy between developing infrastructure resources and maintaining them.” Initially, Lorme thought transitioning from military life to infrastructure management might be difficult. In grasping the magnitude of CDOT’s no-fail mission, however, he found himself back in his comfort zone – which seems to be wherever the stakes are highest. “CDOT maintains, repairs, and plows more than 23,000 total lane miles of highway, nearly 3,500 bridges, and accommodates more than 28 billion miles of annual vehicle travel. We plow about 6 million lanes miles a year,” says Lorme. “Fundamentally, there is nothing that doesn’t depend on our highway system in one way or another. From the food we eat to the first responders that save people’s lives, without our highway system we don’t have a functioning society.” As such, when he retired from serving his country, Lorme started a second career that has become a 24/7 responsibility. He lives in Monument, CO with his wife and two German Shepherds and spends his free time at the ready. “I get involved in field management whenever events affect more than one of CDOT’s 5 regions. That could be anything from a disaster like the Glenwood Canyon Fire, a rockslide, or even snow. Tonight, with a statewide snowstorm coming, I’ll be sleeping on a military cot in my office.” Asked about Work Zone safety, Lorme starts the conversation with the ultimate end; by pleading for compassion for the men and women who serve on the frontlines of highway maintenance. “CDOT has lost 62 of our peers in the line of service. The first two were lost in 1929. The latest was in 2020 when a vehicle struck a Region 1 surveyor in Denver,” says Lorme. “It is said a man dies twice; once when he is killed and once when his name is said for the last time. CDOT wants to ensure these people are never forgotten. So, we have a memorial in front of our office with their names.” Asked about the interaction between CDOT and the industry partners in design, construction, and material supply, Lorme points to communication as the cornerstone of every safety success. “You can’t over-communicate; you can’t over-coordinate safety,” he shares. “We have a long series of meetings about how we will establish the work zone, who is working within it, and how we message the public. Firms competing for our work come from a pool of resources who meet our safety requirements. There are reviews and stakeholder engagement sessions built into everything we do.” Most importantly, Lorme wants you to know that work zone safety is a conscious state of mind. Of course, CDOT establishes proper work zones according to federal guidelines, teaches personnel to keep their head on a swivel, and outfits crews with the best vehicles and personal protective equipment but the public’s awareness while driving is what makes the difference. “Motorists need to remember the people working in these zones are someone’s family. They need to appreciate that the work zone they are traveling through is someone’s office,” says Lorme. “Drivers are moving two tons of steel through a constrained space where people are working without protection just a few feet away. If anything goes wrong, it’s a life-altering event.” Asked about the future of work zone safety, Lorme imagines much of what’s possible will evolve through technology. He shares that CDOT is already moving toward increasing public awareness through digital automation. “Our COtrip website and mobile app have recently been upgraded with a new interactive map that helps drivers pre-plan their trip ahead of time to be aware of road or land closures or other adverse conditions,” Lorme shares. ( “In the future, things will be even more interactive. Cars will become aware of situational hazards like an accident or even a pothole in the road and voice-alert drivers. The main thing people need to know is, if they put down their phone and engage in the driving experience, we can avoid almost all work zone safety issues.” John Lorme - D irector of Maintenance and Operations Colorado Department of Transportation