Swerve! Screech! Crash!
In the sound-effects world of highway travel, driving on Interstate 70 during calendar year 2012 has, at times, been a noisy odyssey of construction zones, snarled traffic and sirens with flashing emergency lights.
Come Friday, Dec. 21, the construction season will close for the winter on cross-state I-70. Lane restrictions have already been lifted along most of the four-lane superhighway. It will likely be a relief to motoring traffic that has traversed the lengthy orange-barrel-zones in recent months.
It has been a deadly year on I-70 as far as traffic accidents.
Last Sunday’s double fatality in Putnam County has been recorded as the 13th death of the year between the Illinois state line and the 68-mile marker at Marion County. That two-vehicle wreck was the 10th collision resulting in a fatality, and it was the 536th collision on that stretch of highway.
Interestingly, a look back at past years on the road show that while the total number of collisions has dropped in the past five years, 2012 was the most deadly.
“I don’t remember this many deaths in my 27 years as a trooper,” Sgt. Joe Watts of the Indiana State Police told the Tribune-Star on Friday.
While the construction zones undoubtedly contributed to the numerous accidents, driver error has been the main factor in crashes.
“It’s the same message every time,” Watts said. “People not paying attention to road conditions or due to distractions inside their car.”
Indeed, in a fiery September crash that killed a mother and toddler, it was believed that another driver who was following too closely too fast caused the deadly collision.
Several of the summer’s accidents were rear-end, multi-vehicle incidents that began when semi-tractor trailers could not get stopped in time as traffic slowed in front of them entering construction zones.
Go slow in cone zones
Its been a busy few years roadwork-wise on I-70. The Indiana Department of Transportation has 19 bridge projects awarded since 2008 or expected to be in progress in the next 18 months in the 68 miles from Indianapolis west to the state line. There are 11 roadway projects previously awarded or expected to be awarded in the next 18 months, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation.
One of the contracting companies -- Rieth-Riley Construction -- has been awarded several projects on the interstate, and business development manager Jeremy Kashman said that maintaining a safe work environment for the crews repairing and constructing the roads and bridges is a major concern.
Each project can have 50 to 70 employees at the work site, Kashman said, including people who produce supplies, operate machinery, deliver supplies and flag traffic. The economic investment of federal and state monies into the construction projects is not only seen in improved infrastructure, he said, but also in the economy of the workforce by providing good-paying jobs.
This year, Reith-Rielly handled four asphalt resurfacing jobs on I-70 between Indiana 59 in Clay County to Indiana 39 in Hendricks County costing more than $31 million. Wabash Valley Asphalt handled three projects including road patching, resurfacing and bridge deck replacement in Vigo and Clay counties with a cost of of about $19 million.
Generally, projects are paid for by a mixture of 90 percent federal highway funds and 10 percent state highway funds.
INDOT communications director Debbie Calder said that rehabilitation is the scope of the I-70 projects being completed this year and those scheduled for next year. The work includes subsurface drainage, patching, resurfacing and guardrail work.
“The general scope of the activities on I-70 is to prevent further deterioration and restore the roadway and provide acceptable pavement sections for smooth ride and pavement longevity while bringing the facility better in line with current standards,” Calder said.
No new lanes are being added to the highway east of Marion County, which is the Crawfordsville District of INDOT. However, widening is being done at many bridge locations to bring the structures to current standards, Calder said.
INDOT estimates that more than 30,000 vehicles travel I-70 eastbound from Vigo County toward Indianapolis every day.
Construction on I-70 began across the state in 1963, almost 50 years ago.
Because I-70 paralleled existing four-lane highway U.S., the interstate had a low construction priority, except for the bypasses in the Terre Haute and Richmond areas. Those bypasses were needed to relieve local congestion.
The Richmond bypass -- in far eastern Indiana -- was completed in September 1961, according to information published in “History of the Interstate System in Indiana,” published in 1975 by Purdue’s School of Engineering Joint Highway Research Project.
The start of construction on the Terre Haute bypass had been planned to start in 1960, but changes in interchange location and type, and a change in the alignment of I-70 through the strip mine area east of the city, delayed construction until the latter half of 1964.
The Terre Haute bypass from the state line to Indiana 46 was opened in August 1967.
The segment of interstate from U.S. 231 in Putnam County (what was then Indiana 43) to I-465 outside Indianapolis was opened on Aug. 30, 1968. The remaining segment of I-70 between Indiana 46 east of Terre Haute and U.S. 231 was opened on Oct. 21, 1969.
I-70 east of Indianapolis was opened on Dec. 2, 1968.
Still dangerous out there
The construction zones may be closed for now, but other traveling dangers will present themselves in the coming weeks.
“In the winter months, you can’t always tell when the black ice is out, or when the road is starting to freeze,” Sgt. Watts said.
A lack of snow during the past year may have contributed to fewer slide-offs and collisions during the past winter and early spring, Watts said, but just a glaze of precipitation combined with low temperatures can still make the roads slick as a skating rink.
“People still need to slow down, leave a buffer between their vehicles, and pay attention to others,” Watts said of motorists.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.