TERRE HAUTE —
This week’s fatal crash in an Interstate 70 construction zone — complicated by subsequent vehicle crashes that night — reinforces the law enforcement theme that motorists always need to be ready to react to any traffic slowdowns or situations.
“It’s been a variety of issues really,” ISP Sgt. Cory Robinson said of the causes for accidents seen on I-70 in recent months. The Putnamville Post of the Indiana State Police covers I-70 from the state line in Vigo County through Clay and Putnam counties.
“There’s such a vast array of issues we’ve seen out there, we can’t pinpoint any one thing,” Robinson said. “It all goes back to construction zones deserve more attention.”
Three construction zones — one each in Vigo, Clay and Putnam counties — are active, and two more asphalt resurfacing projects are gearing up to start in July.
For the upcoming July 4 holiday next Wednesday, the restrictions of construction zones will be removed, beginning noon Tuesday until work resumes Thursday morning.
While a current count is unavailable on the number of accidents that have occurred in I-70 construction zones west of Indianapolis this year, the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute has reported that for the entire stretch of I-70 in Indiana, there have been 1,612 crashes with 15 fatalities from the period of June 1, 2011, to May 31, 2012.
The crash hotspots, however, seem to be construction zones, where traffic can slow unexpectedly, and where vehicles often follow too closely to each other.
“Often, drivers can’t see as far ahead down the interstate,” Robinson said, and that creates a problem when people don’t expect sudden slowdowns.
In the case of Tuesday evening’s accident involving an SUV and a cement truck working in the construction zone, the circumstances seem to be a freak accident. The crash is stll under investigation by ISP to include commercial motor vehicle post-crash analysis.
ISP public information officer Sgt. Curt Durnil said preliminary indications show that the SUV, occupied by a driver and two passengers, was not exceeding the posted speed limit. In fact, traffic was slowed significantly in the work zone at the time of the crash.
In that incident, police report that the wheels of the cement truck dropped into some freshly poured cement, causing the driver to lose control of the heavy truck, which overturned onto the SUV. One woman passenger was killed, and a male passenger was seriously injured.
That accident, just after 4 p.m. in the eastbound lanes near the 30-mile marker, halted traffic for several hours. At about 7 p.m., police responded to another two-vehicle crash near the 17-mile marker in Clay County. In that accident, a semi tractor-trailer in slowed traffic was struck in the rear by a pickup truck. The driver of the pickup truck was airlifted to an Indianapolis hospital.
And then at 8 p.m. near the 10-mile marker, a two-vehicle crash occurred in the eastbound lanes when a Toyota passenger car in slowing traffic was rear-ended by a pickup truck. The driver of the car, his wife and their twin daughters were taken to a local hospital for treatment of minor injuries. They all were wearing seatbelts or using child safety seats. Neither the driver nor the passenger in the pickup truck were wearing seatbelts and sustained head and chest injuries. Each was ticketed for failure to use seatbelts.
Sgt. Durnil said that construction zones are dangerous not only for the motoring public, but also for the construction workers.
Sgt. Robinson agreed that motorists should be on the lookout for construction workers walking along the road and for moving equipment in the work zone.
Troopers are positioned to patrol the construction zones, he said, and to enforce speed limits.
“We’re just remaining diligent on being visible, and taking enforcement action where possible,” Robinson said.
Fortunately for motorists who chose to travel on I-70, one construction zone should be wrapping up this week. But others will be continuing throughout the summer and possibly into the fall.
Asphalt resurfacing and bridge deck replacement on I-70 from the state line to just west of the Wabash River Bridge was due to be completed Thursday.
A patch and rehabilitation project on I-70 from U.S. 40 (old Indiana 46) in eastern Vigo County to Indiana 59 in Clay County is estimated for completion July 15.
An asphalt resurfacing project from about six miles east of Indiana 59 in Clay County to about 3 miles west of Indiana 243 in Putnam County began June 11, and is estimated to be done in late July. When that project finishes, a resurfacing project will start near U.S. 231 in Putnam County and run to Little Point Road in Hendricks County. The estimated completion date is November.
An asphalt resurface project on I-70 from just west of Indiana 39 to just west of Indiana 267 in Hendricks County is expected to start July 5 and be completed in November.
The Indiana Department of Transportation posts construction alerts for motorists on its website at www.in.gov/indot and at www.trafficwise.in.gov.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.