The stop-and-go became rhythmic for some and infuriating for others.
For weeks, thousands of commuters have found ways to pass the time — with audio books or a phone chat with a friend — when they’ve run into the daily milelong bottleneck of traffic on State Road 135.
The problem was one they hadn’t expected. The backup started after a traffic signal was installed at Smokey Row Road and State Road 135. The construction zone was gone, but commuters said they knew something wasn’t right.
Indiana Department of Transportation officials say those commuters are right and something was wrong with the light. But now, they hope the problem is fixed.
For weeks, Jennifer Burton wondered if the state had mixed up which road was busier.
On her way home to Providence from work in Indianapolis, she would see the light for traffic on Smokey Row Road stay green for all the traffic to get through. And then, the green light would come on for north- and southbound State Road 135 traffic, but only three or four cars would get through.
“Something wasn’t right with the light,” Burton said.
Sometimes the light didn’t even stay green for 10 seconds, and her commute kept getting longer. She soon realized she was arriving to pick up her three children 10 to 15 minutes late every day.
State officials aren’t quite sure what was wrong with the light, but on Wednesday a contractor went out to try to fix it. The best they could do was keep the lights for traffic on State Road 135 green for a maximum of 60 seconds at a time, INDOT spokesman Harry Maginity said. He added the contractor will continue working on the issue until it is fixed.
For some commuters, the small fix seemed to help. Hours later, when rush hour hit, many commuters reported a shorter wait or no wait at all to get through the intersection they had dreaded for weeks.
But now, the worry is that the light isn’t the only problem.
The stoplight was a welcome addition to the intersection that more than 21,000 vehicles pass through daily. Local police have called Smokey Row Road and State Road 135 one of the most dangerous intersections in the county because of the number of accidents, often serious, that happen when traffic tried to cross the state highway.
But commuters were surprised that when the state spent
$1.3 million to add left-turn lanes and a stoplight to the intersection, the project didn’t also add a right-turn lane for traffic heading to one of the most populated areas.
Multiple subdivisions have been built west of the intersection in recent years, but no right-turn lane was added for those vehicles, which commuters said also leads to backups.
The new light helps with traffic backups that would happen when vehicles would turn left, but drivers still slow down significantly when they turn right, backing up the traffic behind them, John Kindervater said.
He said he worries that his daily commute between his Center Grove area home and Indianapolis could get worse without that turn lane.
“It seems irrational to me that they would not put a right turn there,” Kindervater said.
A right-turn lane wasn’t part of the design for the project, which was based on traffic studies, Maginity said.
The added lane would have required the state to buy more land, and right turns typically don’t have as big of an impact on traffic, especially when compared to left turns, he said.
His hope was that the fix to the traffic signal would be enough to stop the daily backups.
So far, motorists think the fix may be helping.
Beverly Spriggs had gotten used to the weekday traffic hassle. Her morning drive was fine. But in the afternoon on her way home to Bargersville, the trip was taking an extra 20 minutes.
She understood the frustrations of the drivers around her, whom she would see turning around or pointlessly rushing to get through the stopped traffic. But after a little while, Spriggs stopped looking at the clock and immersed herself in an audio mystery novel.
“You might as well just relax about it. It’s not going to get any better,” she said. “You don’t even count seconds anymore, you count cars.”
But on Wednesday, she noticed the traffic was better. She wasn’t sure if the easier drive was because she headed home later in the day or due to the stoplight fix, but she hoped that whatever it was would continue.
Within hours of the fix to the stoplight, Joey Hollis noticed a difference in his commute time, which had been lengthened at least 15 minutes with the backups.
When construction began to add the new light and lanes, Hollis thought that would have the biggest impact on his commute from Franklin to Greenwood. But the work barely affected traffic, except a few times when workers were moving equipment or supplies.
“The construction was not as much of a headache as the light,” Hollis said.
Dennis Eickhoff is hopeful the state has found a fix.
He knows the frustration his fellow commuters have been feeling well. He has sat at that light and stared at the empty road ahead of him and then glanced back at the backup behind him.
“I am sure people are thinking the light’s in, the road’s open, and it’s worse than it ever has been,” Eickhoff said.
“You might as well just relax about it. It’s not going to get any better. You don’t even count seconds anymore, you count cars.”
Center Grove area commuter Beverly Spriggs, on backups at State Road 135 and Smokey Row Road