A Driving Force for a Safer World
Statewide Safety Systems aims to improve life, both on the road and in public spaces
Did you know that while you’re going about your daily business there are highly planned, well-organized systems in place to keep people and cars moving safely through myriad scenarios? Whether driving through road construction zones or traveling on your average freeways and streets, attending events or dining out during COVID-19, chances are at some point you have interacted with Statewide Safety Systems (Statewide).
According to Statewide CEO Don Nicholas, smarter infrastructure plays a crucial role in public safety and Statewide fits into this role in numerous ways. “We like to refer to ourselves as a one-stop shop,” Don says.
For starters, the company’s traffic control experts can assist with planning and permitting for road work; its team can staff any job or train others to work in the field; and it can ensure that event traffic and crowd control run smoothly by working directly with state agencies, municipalities and neighborhoods. Statewide’s employees are trained to keep themselves and those around them protected during these occurrences—and there is a lot more to that than meets the eye.
Jay A. Jimenez, Statewide’s Chief Revenue & Strategy Officer, believes that the company’s investment in staff training is one of the ways that it sets itself apart. “A lot of people think it’s an easy thing to do—you just buy a couple of cones and some arrow boards. I think they would be surprised by the level of complexity that’s involved in our work,” he says.
In addition to understanding federal, state and local government requirements for any project, workers must also know how a particular site needs to be laid out based on contextual criteria. “They need to understand how to stop and divert traffic by being aware of the speed limit of the road they are working on to determine things like how far apart prewarning signs should be spaced and how far apart cone spacing needs to be,” Don says. “Our employees are the most important thing to me, and we make sure that we give them the right tools to do their jobs in a safe manner.”
An Early Start
Don started Statewide in California in 1986 at age 19. He had worked for Flash Safety Co. Inc., a traffic control firm in his hometown of Sacramento, since he was 15. He began by washing trucks and making deliveries and eventually becoming a flagger. When he decided to hang out a shingle of his own, he wore multiple hats, hiring good people to help out when he could afford it, some of whom are still with him today. “I never thought in 1986—or even in 2006—that Statewide would be in 12 states with multiple sites,” he says.
Statewide also sells and rents PPE (personal protective equipment) and safety products. These products can range from vests, hard hats, safety glasses and cones to sophisticated Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), which can be utilized in highway work zones to help improve both public safety and mobility. The resulting systems are commonly referred to as Smart Work Zones because they leverage the information derived from the ITS equipment to improve operations within and around the work zones. Message boards, automated flagging devices and speed trailers are all part of ITS.
“There’s a lot of science that goes into this. Not just physical science, but behavioral science,” Jay says, when discussing how speed trailers are utilized. “The placement of the trailer, how far in advance of the work zone you put it in order to generate the needed effect, which is slowing people down, are taken into consideration.” Don agrees, “They do work. Once you put up a posted speed limit and show motorists how fast they are driving, they slow down.”
Delve deeper into driver safety and traffic mitigation with Don and you will hear about his favorite project that took place on San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge in 2015, with the end result of preventing head-on collisions from ever happening again. This was accomplished with the installation of a smart piece of equipment called the Road Zipper. Developed by Lindsay Corporation, the new barrier contains 3,500 movable steel-clad concrete blocks, each standing 32 inches high. In addition to preventing crossover from oncoming lanes, it is operated by two people and takes about a half-hour to reverse a lane. At peak times during the day, the Road Zipper moves 11 feet over to open up another lane of traffic.
“It’s called contraflow,” Don says. “You have three lanes open going one way in the morning and two going the other way. In the evening, the Road Zipper reverses the direction.” The $30 million project was accomplished in one weekend by closing the bridge for the first time in history. “It was actually planned to be closed for 64 hours, but we finished six hours early,” Don says, adding that he was proudly out there doing the work with the team.
Statewide manufactures both temporary and permanent safety signs and is one of three companies in the state of California that is certified to make permanent traffic signs. These signs are safer than ever today because they incorporate Type XI sheeting, the most highly reflective material on the market. Statewide is currently working with the state of California to upgrade all highway signs, with the end result of improving road safety.
Holding up his cellphone, Don says, “Right here, this is the biggest killer on the roadways today. This thing has really caused a lot of problems with traffic, with accidents and with human behavior. Distracted driving…I think it passed drunken driving many, many years ago.”
His sentiment is backed up by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Not only is distracted driving the biggest contributor to both accidents and fatalities, but the department’s data show that sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 mph, that’s the same as driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed. “When you add construction to the mix, the percentage [of distracted driving] becomes exponentially higher,” Jay says. “So, technology is one of those things that we can continue to utilize to help keep people safe on the road and our workers safe as well.”
Making traffic flow smoothly can also help prevent accidents. Most Californians will remember the I-405 (405) Sepulveda Pass Improvements project, the largest design-build highway improvement project to take place in Southern California and Statewide’s largest-ever project as well. The $1.034 billion job was a collaboration between the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Caltrans and the contractor, Kiewit Corporation. Statewide was hired to do all of the traffic control for the five-year project, which was completed in 2014. The 405 freeway at Sepulveda Pass is the busiest stretch of highway in the United States. The scope was to reduce existing and forecasted traffic congestion by adding a 10-mile HOV lane, improving infrastructure such as ramps, bridges and soundwalls, and widening lanes from the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10) to the Ventura Freeway (U.S. 101).
“Within that project, the Mulholland Bridge needed to be removed, and in order to do that, we had to close down the 405 for an entire weekend,” Don says. That weekend was dubbed “Carmageddon” by Angelinos, sensitive to the massive traffic jams that an event like that might cause. “The bridge’s location, where the 10, 101 and 405 meet had the potential of being very disruptive,” Don says. “It was a huge undertaking to do something like that, and it took about six months to plan and about 50 or 60 workers to close the freeway for that three-day stretch.”
In the end, media hype, which started long before the bridge was removed, did the job of preventing any issues or delays. “The scare tactics worked…everyone stayed home and safe and the project was completed 17 hours ahead of schedule,” Don says.
From Small to High-Profile Projects
Other high-profile projects in Statewide’s portfolio include events like the renowned U.S. Open at Pebble Beach golf tournament; the largest electronic dance music festival in North America, the EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival) in Las Vegas; and the Amgen Tour of California, an annual cycling stage race that stretches through the state.
“We also do a lot of work around movie and television productions,” Jay says. The company provides traffic control for road closures as well as signage and barriers to ensure that sets stay closed and clear of intrusion. Movies such as “Jurassic Park,” “50 First Dates” and “Jumanji” are just a few examples of where Statewide has assisted. “This year, we were very proud to work with the “Hawaii Five-O” series, doing a lot of traffic control for all of the locations they filmed throughout that beautiful island,” Jay says of their Honolulu division.
Which isn’t to say that the company doesn’t do small projects. “Landscaping companies need safety vests…restaurants these days need barriers and signage because of COVID…we do church events and carnivals and small community races—we provide soup to nuts traffic control and equipment for any size operation,” Jay says.
Statewide is a member of a number of trade organizations, but Don and Jay are most proud of their participation in the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC). In fact, one of Statewide’s employees, Carolyn Aber, is the 2019-2020 President of NAWIC Honolulu. “As a guy with a daughter who has a lot of interest in engineering and mathematics, I’m proud of the fact that we create opportunities as a company to not only embrace diversity, but to celebrate it at all levels,” Jay says. “The image of construction is a bunch of burly guys. To be able to help change that image, and understand that we really benefit from having a lot of different perspectives, is included in everything that we do here.”