The sun is climbing up the sky; the temperature is rather warm for a Duluth morning in the spring. It’s the kind of sunny morning when you walk outside and you can’t help but take a deep breath of fresh air. Despite your mind racing through all of the things you must accomplish in just one day's time, and regardless of if you woke up late and are now annoyingly rushed, a small flash of optimism enters your thoughts. You’re able, even for just that first breath, to take in the beauty of a beautiful day in Duluth.
What would it be like to just work outside today, instead of working inside at your desk? What if your view from your office was the sparkling waters of Lake Superior, instead of the short pastel cubicle wall that separates your work station from Judith's. To the road maintenance crews in Duluth, this dream is a reality. But even this idyllic job has its challenges.
On this particular day, two maintenance trucks crawl cautiously down West First Street from 46th to 40th Ave. It’s 8:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning -- just after the morning rush hour to work and school -- and the crew is filling pot holes. They drive a little under the residential speed limit, looking for areas in the road that may need attending to after the main job is complete. The crew has already been on the road for an hour and a half and has just arrived on the scene of their second assignment of the day.
The cluster of pot holes is located on the corner of a four way intersection. The terrain on this particular road is anything but smooth or even. The asphalt has been torn up, and three large pot holes make up the majority of the area with several little holes clustered around them. With rocks and road rubble scattered throughout the area, it is an inline skater’s worst nightmare.
The first maintenance truck, which holds the cold mix used for filling the holes, drives past the four-way intersection and parks next to the jagged area. Three men from the crew hop out of the car quickly. Their speediness may have been due to the fact that they had been cramped together three deep in the front of a truck. However, their ultimate goal is to repair the road as quickly and as efficiently as they can.
The second truck holds only one driver, Fred Seger. He waves a passing car through the intersection before pulling up and parking behind the first truck. He makes sure to park in the middle of the intersection so he can block any traffic that might try to enter the work zone area.
“I’ve seen my fair of interesting gestures from commuters on this job,” said Seger.
Most of us have experienced this type of agitation, especially while in a hurry or caught on a bad day. The last thing a person wants is to get caught up in a construction zone when they have a million other things to do.
“My first thought is UUUHHH get out of my way,” Karli Scheving, a Duluth resident said. “Then I feel bad for being frustrated, they really are doing us a favor. I try to take an alternate route around the workers if at all possible.”
Road blocks such as the one that Fred created are made to ensure the safety of the crew and of those who cross paths with the construction area. In fact, safety is one of the biggest priorities the Duluth road maintenance crew has.
“We are very safety conscious people,” Seger said. “We have a lot to take care of, not only with the piece of equipment that we are operating, but also with traffic and other types of obstacles that tend to arise.”
One of the obstacles that maintenance crews have to deal with is cars that are parked on the wrong side of the street. This problem is especially challenging to overcome in the winter months when heaps of snow banks line the streets.
“It makes it very difficult to get a large machine through a gap that doesn’t even fit a normal car,” Seger said. “A lot of people don’t get their streets plowed because of someone parked on the wrong side of the road.”
Seger said the main thing to do in order to ensure safety on the job is to keep your head in the game and to always be aware of your surroundings.
“If someone is in a hurry to get where they are going they will pull up right behind you, and you don’t see them,” he said. “You really always just want to remain going forward so you can get your best view of the road. Even doing something so simple as mapping your routes so you don’t have to back up will help.”
“We don’t mean to get in the way,” Seger said. “We just want to make sure that we get home at the end of the day and that everyone else does too."
Video by Jennifer Walch