Northern Dame Construction prepares a road closure on Hillcrest Drive in Anchorage
Safety First
Northern Dame Construction prepares a road closure on Hillcrest Drive in Anchorage.
Safety First
Northern Dame Construction prepares a road closure on Hillcrest Drive in Anchorage.
Northern Dame has a reputation for keeping traffic flowing safely in work zones
By David A. James

e all know the joke. There are two seasons in Alaska: winter and roadwork. As soon as the snow melts, Alaskans hit the highways and invariably find themselves halted by flaggers, waiting their turn at roads undergoing construction, repairs, and upgrades. Most of us patiently idle our engines until instructed to proceed, then smile and wave at the person directing traffic as we pass through.

Flaggers are the front line for safety whenever vehicles need to be slowed, stopped, and released. Traffic control is vital to make way for roadwork, closures, special events such as fun runs and bicycle races, or any other disruptions requiring drivers to pay extra attention to their surroundings. Companies like Wasilla-based Northern Dame Construction provide trained crews of flaggers and traffic control supervisors. Whether it’s a long-planned repaving job, an emergency call-out like the 2018 earthquake, or anything in between, Northern Dame is outfitted and ready to go.

“We are a full-service traffic control company providing traffic control, traffic maintenance, flagging, and certified flagger-training courses,” says Northern Dame owner Stacey Coy. “We work with state and local municipalities as well as private contractors.”

Northern Dame provides all the traffic control elements drivers see when they encounter worksites, including message boards, advance warning signs, and detour signs letting them know what direction they need to follow. Arrow boards, drums, and cones are used to delineate which lanes the public should use.

Coy says long before drivers arrive on the scene, Northern Dame has already been involved with the discovery stages of a road construction project, ensuring traffic control will run smoothly and efficiently when work commences.

“Typically, a contractor would contact us and request our services for traffic-control plans and/or flagging,” Coy says.

The contractor provides the project plans for the job, and Coy gets to work.

“I create a traffic control plan, which is basically a diagram that shows where the devices will be placed on the road,” she explains. “I give that to the contractor, and they submit it for permitting. Once those plans and the permits are approved, then we can implement that traffic control when the contractor is ready.”

From Flagger to Owner

Coy found her way into her role through work and family connections. Northern Dame was established in 1992 by Coy’s mother-in-law, Doris Coy. Doris Coy’s husband, Sid Coy, worked in the construction industry and recognized the need for additional traffic control on projects. This prompted Doris Coy to start a traffic control and flagging business.

Coy began flagging for Northern Dame in 1995 and continued to do so until marrying Doris Coy’s stepson Sean in 2000. The couple remained closely tied to the family business, and when Doris Coy retired in 2017, Coy bought it.

Northern Dame provides certified flagger training through the American Traffic Safety Services Association, or ATSSA.

“ATSSA’s core mission is to advance roadway safety. Through training we can achieve this,” Coy explains. “We want all flaggers to have the proper flagging signals and procedures.”

To get everyone working together effectively, flaggers need to learn hand signals, proper flagger operations, and flagger practices for typical situations.

“It’s really key that flaggers are standing on the shoulder of the road,” Coy says.

Everyone Can Help Work Zones Be a Safe Space

Drivers play a big part in helping Northern Dame employees keep everyone safe. Coy says the most important thing drivers can do is stay alert and follow instructions. As soon as drivers see the first advanced warning sign of road work ahead, they should slow down, prepare to stop, and pay attention to flaggers. Cell phones can be an inviting distraction during delays, but Coy asks that drivers keep their eyes on the road instead. Flaggers are trying to keep vehicles moving as quickly and safely as possible, and drivers can assist them by being ready to follow signaled instructions when given.

An employee of Northern Dame Construction on the job during earthquake repair on Clark-Wolverine in Palmer
A Northern Dame Construction truck is loaded with drums for earthquake repair on Clark-Wolverine in Palmer
Left: An employee of Northern Dame Construction on the job during earthquake repair on Clark-Wolverine in Palmer.

Top right: A Northern Dame Construction truck is loaded with drums for earthquake repair on Clark-Wolverine in Palmer.

Bottom right: Northern Dame Construction owner Stacey Coy.

Northern Dame Construction owner Stacey Coy

Much of Northern Dame’s work is scheduled in advance, but having an available pool of flaggers ready to go in an emergency is also important. This was especially evident in the aftermath of the 2018 earthquake that caused widespread road damage throughout Southcentral. The state had to make quick assessments of which roads needed to be closed, which needed detours put in place, and which required immediate attention.

With many people understandably leaving work early that morning to pick up kids or check on homes, road congestion rose even as closures and detours suddenly hampered normal traffic patterns. Coy says her crews were on the job that day, trying to help everyone get home.

“We immediately mobed out, closed lanes and roads, and set up message boards to alert people the roads were closed so that they could actually make those emergency repairs,” she recalls. “They thought about all of the traffic control plans and permitting later.”

That ability to do the job has helped Northern Dame succeed in the traffic control field.

Eric Simmons, project manager with Pruhs Construction Company, which frequently works with them, says, “We’ve enjoyed a lot of success partnering with the team at Northern Dame. They always go above and beyond to seamlessly integrate with our crews in the field, working tirelessly to ensure our people and the traveling public are safe so we can focus on delivering a quality product.”

Busy Times Ahead, Workers Needed

Coy says it’s going to be a busy summer for Northern Dame, with hopes that the new infrastructure bill will provide work for the next five to ten years. She encourages anyone thinking of becoming a flagger to look into it. Most future flaggers, she says, are initially inspired while waiting to proceed past one of Alaska’s countless summer road projects. Like Coy did in 1995, they think, “I can do that. I want to be outside all day.”

What began as a summer job for Coy has turned into a career keeping Alaskan travelers and road workers safe.

David A. James is a freelance writer from Fairbanks. Photos provided by Northern Dame Construction.