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March 13, 2013

Spring brings cone zones: Several projects set to start soon along I-70 in western Indiana

TERRE HAUTE — Slow traffic ahead.

The warning signs are already out along Interstate 70 from the Indiana-Illinois state line to Indianapolis.

As the weather improves, road projects are blossoming along with spring flowers across the state, and the public is being urged to be prepared for traffic slowdowns and to pay attention to other motorists who may not be so alert.

“We need the cooperation of all drivers to obey the speed limits, not follow too closely, be prepared to slow or stop and wear vehicle restraints,” said Sgt. Joe Watts of the Indiana State Police at Putnamville, recalling the crash-prone months last year during I-70 construction projects.

“Last year was a very busy time for ISP and other emergency responders along the I-70 corridor from Illinois to the Hendricks/Marion County Line,” Watts aid. “Within the counties of Vigo, Clay, Putnam, and Hendricks, there were 535 crashes reported with 438 listed as property damage, 88 listed as personal injury with 139 injuries, and 9 listed as fatal crashes with 11 fatalities.”

The number of crashes raised concerns not only among the motoring public in general, but also with local school officials who realized that utilizing I-70 to transport students in buses in construction zones was a risky undertaking.

Vigo County Danny Tanoos said that just like last year, he plans to restrict buses from using I-70 whenever construction zones are present.

“I am thankful every day that we did that last year, considering all of the accidents and fatalities that occurred out there,” Tanoos said.

It might take a bus longer to reach an “away” sporting event or some other extracurricular activity by transporting students on local roads and highways, he said, but it is safer to keep buses out of construction zones where other motorists could cause an accident.

The Indiana Department of Transportation is hoping to alert motorists to the coming projects with signage and construction barrels in advance of pending projects. As soon as today, some projects could begin. Six project are already scheduled for the Terre Haute to Indianapolis corridor, and another project will be sent out for bids in May.

Debbie Calder, communications director for the Crawfordsville district of INDOT, told the Tribune-Star on Tuesday that the first three projects to begin are completions of work started last year.

“The contractor plans on beginning as soon as the weather allows, possibly next week,” Calder said. “The contractor on these three projects has to finish up some guardrail adjustments, pavement markings and a couple of patches.”

Watch for lane restrictions starting in the following areas:

• I-70 from 5.85 miles east of Indiana 59 in Clay County to 3.14 miles west of Indiana 243 in Putnam County.

• I-70 from U.S. 231 in Putnam County to Little Point Road in Morgan County.

• I-70 from 0.5 mile west of Indiana 39 in Hendricks County to 0.47 mile west of Indiana 267 in Hendricks County.

The contractor, Rieth-Riley Construction, plans to be done with these three projects in April.

Another project that could begin as soon as weather allows runs from Little Point (Exit 51) in Morgan County to more than one-half mile west of Indiana 39 in Hendricks County.

Between Terre Haute and Brazil, road work is planned to start in April from one mile east of U.S. 40/Indiana 46 to Indiana 59 in Clay County.

In May, additional road work will run from about three miles west of Indiana 243 to about one-half mile west of U.S. 231, all in Putnam County. That project is expected to be completed by July 31.

One other project is scheduled for bid letting in May, and it is a patch and resurface project on I-70 from one mile west of U.S. 41 in Terre Haute to Indiana 46/U.S. 40 in eastern Vigo County.

The 2012 road construction season kept much of I-70 reduced to one lane of travel in each direction for most of the summer, with some exceptions during holiday weekends when the lane restrictions were temporarily lifted.

Early in the year, police agencies noticed an increase in traffic accidents -- from crashes involving merges to chain-reaction rear-endings that clogged the traffic zones.

“ISP and INDOT quickly noticed the frequency and severity of the crashes and began to hold meetings to remedy the problem,” Sgt. Watts recalls. “While ISP was working around the clock in the construction zones, crashes were still occurring.”

INDOT made some changes in lane restrictions and the time limits on lane closures, and that seemed to help reduce the crashes, he said.

“But make no mistake about it, the vast majority of the crashes were due to driver error -- such as distractions, speeding, failure to reduce speed to avoid a crash, following too closely and not paying attention to road signage,” Watts said.

“In my 27-years with the ISP, 2012 appeared to the busiest for I-70 crashes,” Watts said. “The crashes appeared preventable if the drivers were paying better attention to their driving. We cannot stress that enough, drivers need to pay strict attention to their driving. Lives depend on it.”

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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