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Tractors and bush hogs and backhoes were put their paces.

MDOT Roadeo is fun and games but public safety remains ultimate goal

Roadeo-Event-Winner-box_rgbBy NASH NUNNERY

There are no bucking broncos, Brahma bulls or cowboy clowns like a traditional rodeo but the competitive juices flow for heavy equipment operators at the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s aptly-named Roadeo.

The annual contest and training event shows how MDOT employees maintain and enhance their daily operating skills while making sure their duties are performed safely.

The 2016 Roadeo was held in Tupelo on June 7, with the winners moving on to Savannah, Ga. to compete in the regionals against transportation workers from 10 other states.

Safety remains the main focus of the event, said MDOT Deputy Executive Director Mark McConnell.

“The competition is fun and lighthearted but the main thing we get out of Roadeo is the emphasis on safety,” said McConnell, who also serves as MDOT’s chief engineer. “In fact, one of the events is the pre-trip inspection. We require the drivers to identify at least 10 of the 14 items on the equipment daily checklist. Everything from checking the tires for damage to making sure the windows and lights are clean.”

McConnell said the annual Roadeo was launched in 2001 to boost employee morale.

“We learned about the Roadeo from the Arkansas transportation agency,” he said. “The first year we hosted one here, the state of Arkansas sent a few guys down to help us get it started. It’s really improved over the years and our employees enjoy the competition and fellowship with their counterparts from around the state.”

The Roadeo events include maneuvering large trucks, weaving a tractor and bush hog through a winding course, operating a motor grater and using a back hoe to pick up golf balls. Pushed to their limits, the contestants earned their way to the state contest by competing in six district competitions.

Trucks of all types are a Roadeo staple. Tractor trucks with lowboy trailers, single axle dump trucks and tandem axle dump trucks compete in four field course problems, including parallel parking, alley docking, straight line and stop line.

One of the more interesting events is the backhoe. The event tests the operator’s ability to maneuver the backhoe’s bucket in tight quarters AND transfer five golf balls from a sand box to a six-inch diameter cylinder. In five minutes, no less.

“I recall during the first year of the event, the sand box took quite a beating,” said McConnell. “It makes you really appreciate the operating skills of these guys on our public roads and highways.”

First-, second- and third-place winners in each event at the District and state competitions receive certificates of commendation, with first place in each event garnering a plaque. In addition, the district team at the Roadeo state finals with the highest number of points is presented the MDOT Team Champion award.

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