Work creates safety worry: Drivers, police share concerns amid repairs

GREENFIELD — James Peters waited for a break in traffic, then stepped on the gas.

Construction work has left drivers merging onto eastbound Interstate 70 from State Road 9 without an acceleration lane. Gunning it, said Peters — who recently took the route for work — is the only option to avoid a wreck.

Police and residents said they’re concerned about a new traffic pattern on I-70 that forces drivers getting onto the interstate to quickly merge with oncoming traffic. A pair of bridges over Brandywine Creek, just east of the State Road 9 exit, are being rehabilitated this summer, and the first phase of construction shifts all eastbound traffic to the left.

Peters called the traffic pattern “unacceptably dangerous,” saying he worries it could lead to a fatal accident if oncoming traffic hasn’t gotten into the left lane to allow drivers to merge.

It’s a worry law enforcement officers share. Speed limits in the area have been reduced from 70 miles per hour to 45 miles per hour, but many drivers on the interstate aren’t slowing down, police said. Since the start of construction about two weeks ago, five accidents have already been reported, Greenfield Police Chief Jeff Rasche said.

No one has been seriously injured, but with construction expected to last 10 more weeks, transportation officials are adding more signage in the area to alert drivers and spreading the word about the construction.

The Indiana Department of Transportation, which oversees projects on the interstate, posted multiple signs on I-70 and at the eastbound entrance ramp before construction started to warn drivers they need to slow down and be cautious, said Nathan Riggs, information director for the Indiana Department of Transportation.

Late last week, the department instructed the construction contractor to post additional warnings, including a speed-detector sign to alert drivers to how fast they’re traveling. When cars are traveling above the posted speed limit, the sign blinks, Riggs said. By alerting drivers they’re going too fast, they hope people slow down, enhancing safety for both drivers and workers, Riggs said.

Riggs said it’s imperative drivers don’t speed through work zones.

Speed limits are reduced to 45 miles per hour to increase safety not only for construction workers but drivers, too, Riggs said. When drivers travel more than 50 miles per hour through work zones, crashes are more likely to be fatal, statistics show.

Nationwide, when there are fatal crashes in work zones, about 80 percent of the fatalities are drivers and their passengers, not workers, according to INDOT statistics.

Riggs encouraged drivers to heed the speed limits in the area, noting it takes just one extra minute to travel through a two-mile work zone at 45 miles per hour than at 65 miles per hour.

Traveling tips

The Indiana Department of Transportation provides the following tips for drivers traveling through construction zones.

  • Don’t text or talk on the phone.
  • Avoid taking your hands off the wheel.
  • Watch for speed limit reductions, narrowing lanes, changing traffic patterns, and – most importantly – highway workers.
  • Respect the posted speed limits and safely merge as soon as safely possible as this will allow traffic to flow smoothly.
  • Keep a safe distance on all sides of your vehicles and maintain a safe following distance.
  • Respect the flaggers and obey their guidance. Be patient when driving through work sites with flagger control.
  • Pay attention to the construction signage.
  • Expect delays.
  • Select alternate routes if possible to avoid the work zone completely.
  • Be patient and stay calm.

Source: Indiana Department of Transportation

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.