GREENFIELD — The entrance ramp onto eastbound Interstate 70 from Greenfield will be closed for two months.
Officials for the Indiana Department of Transportation have shut down the ramp to I-70 from State Road 9, citing safety concerns after eight accidents were reported in the construction area after less than a month — even after additional signs and a flashing speed-detector were posted — dispatch records show.
The ramp likely won’t reopen until early fall after construction crews finish rehabilitating a pair of bridges over Brandywine Creek, just east of the State Road 9 exit.
That means the estimated 2,700 cars that use the ramp daily will be detoured to U.S. 40 to get onto I-70 at the Knightstown/Wilkinson exit 11 miles farther east. Drivers also can get on the interstate at the Mt. Comfort Road exit, about eight miles west of Greenfield.
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The decision comes about three weeks after construction in the area shifted all traffic left, eliminating an acceleration lane for drivers merging onto the interstate.
The traffic pattern forced drivers to either stop and wait for a lull in traffic to merge onto the interstate or gun it in hopes of breaking through.
The accidents started almost as soon as the cones went up, with some drivers getting rear-ended while waiting to merge and others colliding with oncoming eastbound vehicles, dispatch records show.
Dozens of drivers, along with members of local law enforcement, told the Daily Reporter they were concerned about the traffic pattern, fearing there could be serious accident if mergers jumped onto the interstate too soon or if eastbound drivers barrelled through the construction zone.
Though INDOT reduced the speed limit in the area from 70 mph to 45, many drivers weren’t slowing down, officials report.
That made merging onto the interstate dangerous for drivers coming from State Road 9.
Of course, INDOT officials expect the closure will draw its own complaints.
Shauna Bushaw of Greenfield takes eastbound I-70 often; she imagines the closure might be a hassle.
She knows from experience how inconvenient a ramp closure can be for commuters. When the entrance and exit ramps from Interstate 70 onto Post Road in Indianapolis were closed recently for construction projects, getting to work and back home was difficult, she said.
But taking U.S. 40 or county roads for the next few weeks — even if it adds a little time to her commute — isn’t unreasonable if it means she’ll make it to her destination safely.
“I want to make it out alive,” she said.
INDOT officials said the traffic pattern they chose for the construction zone isn’t unusual — adding those trying to merge onto any interstate are required to yield to oncoming traffic — but drivers need to abide by the signs posted in the area, including the speed limit.
Speed, failure to yield or unsafe lane changes caused most of the accidents, officials said.
Just last week, INDOT instructed crews in the area to put up more signs to alert drivers to slow down, including a speed-detecting device that flashes when a car is over the limit. They hoped the signs would encourage drivers to reduce their speed, making the construction area safer for everyone.
But those extra efforts haven’t made a noticeable difference, said Nathan Riggs, information director for INDOT.
Closing the ramp is the best way to reduce the number of accidents and keep drivers and construction workers safe, Riggs said.
“I’m sure it will be an inconvenience, but we hope people understand,” he said.
Construction on the right half of the bridge should be complete in the next two weeks, and traffic will shift right so crews can work on the left half.
The second phase is estimated to last six weeks, during which the ramp will remain closed, Riggs said.