Joe Bivins Is Fixing Our Roads

One Washington State Department of Transportation worker tells us what it’s like behind the orange safety gear.

By Allison Williams May 20, 2024

Joe Bivins has spent nine years working at WSDOT, mostly on the night shift.


When Joe Bivins goes to work, sometimes he feels the sensation of air against his skin, displaced by a car inches away traveling at freeway speeds. It’s part of his job as a maintenance worker for the Washington State Department of Transportation, assigned to work sections of I-90 and I-405 around Bellevue and Kirkland, and covering an expanded area in the winter. After nine years at WSDOT, mostly on the night shift, Bivins takes pride in how his team keeps local lanes fixed and functional while others sleep. “It’s insane, how there’s such a small margin for error out there,” he says. When drivers give his crew a wide berth, “that 12 feet of extra space can mean the difference between one of us going to the hospital or just saying, ‘Oh, someone just blew a tire.’”

Routine maintenance would be like drain cleaning, and that’s oddly satisfying. It’s a giant vacuum—we clean out the sediment that’s at the bottom to help keep the waterways clear.

We do tree and brush control. When vegetation starts encroaching past the barrier, affecting line of sight or blocking signs, we get in there and clear that out.

I’m flashing back to a memory of clearing out a center median and there’s a bunch of scotch broom, and finding out I’m allergic to it.  

Blackberries…they’re everywhere. And there’s no fun way to clear them out. They have thorns, and you get reminded of that constantly.

I’ve had a snake pop out at me while I was readjusting some concrete barrier, and it startled me and I fell backwards.

My mom worked for the state. She really pushed to me that the state was a good job. Very reliable, good benefits. The government’s always gonna be there.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time at Boys and Girls Club. There, helping and volunteering is very, very natural.

That kind of planted that seed for me to want to be a public servant.

We work in areas where the traffic volumes during the day do not allow for the day crews to do [our] type of work. We usually have to take a lane.

We don’t want to create bottlenecks. We don’t want to create problems. And it’s just a lot safer for the workers in general with less traffic on the road.

After Bivens suits up, he spends most of his work hours outside.


You name it, it’s happened. One of the worst things that’s happened that was intentional was someone drove past and threw an object at one of my coworkers.

If you’re asking me if I’ve been hit by vehicle, yeah—well, in a truck.

He didn’t move over. And he didn’t slow down.

I wasn’t hurt or anything. But having such a large vehicle come barreling through—it kind of messes with you, just for a little bit.

You feel a little jumpy afterwards.

If we’re working on the shoulder, you know, I still have vehicles that pass within an inch or two.

Working a night shift, every other aspect of your life revolves around days. Want to spend time with their family? Got to be awake during the day.

You kind of always feel a little drained, no matter how much sleep you get.

You see cars, and you got to remember that there’s people driving those cars and every person is different. Every person has a different story. They’re going somewhere that’s important to them.

I drive this road, my family drives this road, you know. Someone’s kid drives this road, someone’s parent drives this road. 

And what we do really makes a difference. 

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