GREENFIELD — Orange and white traffic barrels, detour signs and construction equipment stretch as far as the eye can see through the heart of Greenfield, indicating a major construction project is underway.
Road improvement work along State Road 9 on the south side of Greenfield officially started this week, and despite numerous warnings to drivers about the road closure, the work is creating chaos as many drivers are disregarding the construction signs and driving through the closure area.
Greenfield Police Department officers stopped nearly 50 drivers who disregarded construction warnings and went around “road closed” signs and barricades on Tuesday, March 9. An additional 47 drivers were pulled over Wednesday, March 10, for the same type of violations.
The blatant disregard for the construction warning and “road closed” signs is creating safety issues for construction crews as well as the community, police say.
“The detours are clearly marked,” said Capt. Chuck McMichael, public information officer for GPD. “The only time you should be in the closed-off area is to visit a business within the closure or going to and from a home in the closure.”
Mallory Duncan, communications director for the Indiana Department of Transportation, worked with local officials to try and warn people about the full-closure construction. She and McMichael produced a video that was posted last week on the GPD Facebook page explaining the restrictions. But people are having a hard time adjusting.
“With any kind of full closure, there is no through traffic, but there is access for homeowners and the businesses, so if you’re just driving through, that road is not for you right now,” Duncan said.
While there is no through traffic, there are ways to get around the construction zone if people will follow the official detours or use side streets.
INDOT has posted a detour route online that uses state roads, but Duncan said last week that local drivers should feel free to use other routes to make their way around the closure. City engineer Jason Koch has said local traffic can use a detour route from Franklin Street to U.S. 40 to Davis Road, similar to the detour available when streets are closed during the Riley Festival.
“People need to plan their route beforehand so that they don’t get stuck,” Duncan said. “If they don’t, that’s where frustration sets in and people go through barriers.”
Those who do disregard the warning signs are risking the lives of construction workers, who are not expecting cars to be moving through their work zones along State Road 9, which is being refurbished from Davis Road on the south side all the way to Interstate 70.
Plus, the street surface in many places — especially between Tague and Main streets on the south side during this first phase of the project — already has been broken up. Much underground pipework is underway, meaning there will be massive holes in the street that could swallow a vehicle.
Things were so bad earlier this week with drivers maneuvering through barriers that officers couldn’t stop all the violators, and GPD had to take to social media to ask them to stop.
“Drivers are not permitted to be in the closure area just to pass through,” McMichael said.
Not all of the nearly 100 drivers who were pulled over the past few days were given tickets, which are being handed out at an officer’s discretion. But warnings will not last much longer, particularly because violators are creating safety hazards, police said.
The Hancock County clerk’s office said the standard fine for disregarding a traffic control device in a construction zone is $187. A judge can increase the fine if he chooses to.
“If they are in the construction zone outside of the reasons we posted, there stands a good chance of getting a hefty citation,” McMichael said. “Really, the best advice we can give is to have patience and obey the signs posted.”
Police also warn drivers to slow down as they navigate side streets to get around the construction zone. Police have received numerous calls about cars speeding on side streets and alleys. Neighbors on these streets are not accustomed to the extra traffic, which calls for extra caution, McMichael said.
“There are children in these areas that aren’t used to having to watch for cars,” McMichael said. “This could be a tragic combination that we are working to prevent.”
South of Tague Street along State Road 9, limited access is available to the Hancock County Food Pantry, Park Cemetery and businesses in that area. However, drivers will need to approach from the south, from Davis Road.
“This is the only acceptable reason to be within this stretch of the closure,” McMichael said.
For all businesses and residences between Tague Street and Main Street, drivers will need to access them from alleys and side streets.
The police department has worked with INDOT, Milestone Contractors and the Greenfield Street Department to add signage where they can.
“But, people are still not obeying the signs,” McMichael said. “If they are caught, they can be stopped and cited for disobeying a traffic control device (barricades and signage). We don’t want to issue tickets any more than people want to get them, but we must do everything we can to prevent a tragedy.”
The inconvenience is not going away anytime soon. The reconstruction will work its way north through the heart of Greenfield in phases over the next several months, culminating with a significantly altered traffic flow north of McKenzie Road that will include a median in the middle of State Road 9 that will eliminate most left turns.
The work is expected to be completed in September.
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Officials with the GPD are asking people to follow them on their social media for the latest updates on the road construction.