The orange barrels, narrowed lanes and lower speed limits stretch for miles.
If you’ve been on Interstate 65 on the southside recently, you definitely have driven through at least one construction zone and potentially as many as four.
Traffic already moves slow, but if an accident happens, it backs up, sometimes for miles.
In the past week, at least four accidents have happened on I-65 between Southport Road and Edinburgh, where construction is ongoing. Some of the accidents closed lanes and backed up traffic for miles.
The accidents are a concern for the Indiana Department of Transportation and Indiana State Police.
You may have noticed more state troopers patrolling construction zones and new, digital speed limit signs that change to slow traffic before it gets to construction zones.
But having that many construction zones in one area does increase the danger for accidents and contributes to the number of crashes, Indiana State Police Trooper John Perrine said.
This summer, crews have been working on projects to add lanes on I-65 between Southport Road and Main Street in Greenwood and between Greenwood and Franklin; building a new interchange at Worthsville Road in Greenwood; and repaving and rebuilding the highway from Franklin to Edinburgh. Farther north, work ended only recently allowing the ramp to reopen from I-65 northbound to Interstate 70 westbound.
State officials do consider traffic patterns and nearby construction when deciding what projects should be done and when. But they also balance the wants of the public, who either want workers to get the project done as soon as possible or to do work in small sections to impact traffic less, INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said.
“We try to strike the right balance between those two, both on how much work you program in a given time span and secondly how much room you provide for traffic versus contractors,” Wingfield said.
For other projects, such as for work to the ramp to I-70, the state has been able to close the road to all traffic. That is the safest, quickest and most efficient way to do a project, since crews do not have to do work around traffic. But that mainly only works within the Interstate 465 loop because traffic can be detoured to city streets, Wingfield said.
“South of Indianapolis, we can’t really do that,” he said.
The state also has to make sure to do work when it is needed and not wait too long. Since I-65 has a high volume of truck traffic, it requires work, such as repaving and rebuilding the road surface, more often than other highways, he said.
When making decisions about what lanes will close, what areas will have restrictions and when traffic will be rerouted, officials do consider other projects and work in the area and how they will impact traffic patterns, he said.
Officials also have to consider the safety of both workers and motorists when planning projects, and that is an issue that is continually reviewed during construction, Wingfield said.
“Our goal is to have no serious crashes in our system,” he said.
After accidents happen, INDOT officials review them, including the type of crash, and make improvements based on what was found. That has been an initiative the state has been focusing on for a while, he said.
The areas where traffic enters a construction zone, often slowing or even stopping, are where crashes happen the most, Wingfield said. So the goal is to try to prevent sudden stops, which can lead to accidents.
Recently, the state began testing new speed limit signs, which change to reflect when traffic is approaching a slowdown for construction or a backup due to another issue. The speed limit signs are meant to slow traffic before it approaches the slowdown and prevent accidents, Wingfield said.
The state also works with local police agencies, helping them manage where patrols should be and discussing the key issues they are finding in work zones. The most common problems: following too closely, improper lane changes, failing to allow traffic to merge and, of course, speeding, Wingfield said.
State police also review serious accidents to discuss what can be done in the future, Perrine said.
But police also face challenges in patrolling construction zones, especially when they have no room to stop vehicles for speeding or other violations, Perrine said. That means police may have sections of the interstate that stretch for miles where they either have no room to stop speeders or have no room to sit and watch for violations, he said.
Officers do try to at least be present, driving through those areas, to try to help slow traffic down, he said.
“Construction zones, in general, are always a safety concern,” Perrine said. “People get in a hurry and don’t want to be patient.”