JACKSON COUNTY, Ind. — Indiana State Police are asking drivers to use more caution after two crashes occurred in an interstate work zone that has seen an increase in accidents over the last year and a half.
Wednesday afternoon saw a crash that left a RV destroyed after it crashed into a barrier wall and caught fire. The accident happened in the northbound lanes of I-65 near State Road 11. State police say everyone in the RV escaped. Another crash resulted in a SUV flipping over in the southbound lanes of I-65 near mile marker 60 in Bartholomew County. Minor injuries were reported in that accident.
Both crashes happened in a 14-mile construction zone where crews have been working to widen and resurface I-65 between Columbus and Seymour since March of last year. The area of I-65 affected by the project has seen an increase in crashes since the work began.
From March 2018 to September 2019, there have been 336 crashes in the project zone, according to ISP. The accidents resulted in 96 injuries and 5 deaths.
The numbers show an increase in accidents during the same time of year before the project started. From March 2016 to September 2017, there were 206 accidents, which resulted in 62 injuries and 4 deaths.
“You need to pay close attention to what you’re doing,” said ISP Sergeant Stephen Wheeles. “Most of our crashes are due to driver inattention of some kind.”
Wheeles says drivers need to use extreme caution when navigating the construction area, because the work zone leaves little room for error.
“There’s no shoulder to work with,” Wheeles said. “It does come up with some challenges where we have vehicles that seem closer together, fitting through a tighter space.”
“I get really cautious and really nervous, both hands are on the wheel, both eyes are ahead of me,” said Ogilville resident Charlize Meek. “I try to ignore that there’s a semi right there.”
Terry Spencer, a professional truck driver for Horizon Freight, says too many people seem to ignore the reduced 55 mph speed limit through the work zone.
“Some people get so impatient in the construction zones that they are not willing to slow down,” Spencer said. “Speed and tailgating, you know. Following too close.”
Wheeles said there have also been problems with semi truck drivers ignoring signs directing trucks to use the left lane throughout the work zone. While drivers in smaller cars may get irritated by big rigs using the left lane, Wheeles said the requirement is a safety measure.
“If their right tires get off the side of the road, that grass and that shoulder is very soft,” Wheeles said. “And we’ve seen it repeatedly, it’ll pull those vehicles off to the side of the road, and they’ll overturn.”
“You know, signs start well before the construction zone that says trucks use left lanes,” Spencer said.
Wheeles said he has seen encouraging signs that the increase in crashes has started to level off as more drivers grow accustomed to the work zone. He hopes that will continue, as construction is expected to last for roughly another year.
Wheeles said ISP has been running extra patrols through the area since the project began last year.
INDOT Spokesperson Scott Manning released the following statement:
Work zone safety is a collaborative effort between INDOT, the law enforcement community, and construction contractor partners. On, I-65 between Columbus and Seymour, INDOT has worked with Indiana State Police and E&B Paving to increase patrols and enforce a reduced work zone speed limit of 55 mph at all times, add signage, move trucks to the left lane, add pavement markings to improve line visibility, and prevent congestion and backups by not allowing daytime lane restrictions. All of these measures are intended to maintain a safe work zone for motorists and workers. The project team meets on a regular basis and continually assess safety in the work zone. The team can adjust and make additional changes as needed.