Her drive to and from work in Greenwood didn’t require Deanna Cook to get on Interstate 65.
But when the Whiteland resident was running late, hopping on the interstate for a quicker trip to work had always been an option.
But no more.
With construction stretching for miles, traffic speeding through narrow lanes and serious accidents happening almost weekly, Cook avoids I-65 completely. And she advises others to do the same, including her stepson who works in Columbus.
Other motorists also have grown tired of the backups, accidents and tailgating traffic and have found alternate routes this summer. That has led to more traffic on U.S. 31, State Road 135, Emerson Avenue and other north-south routes in the county.
But commuters say they don’t mind spending extra time in the car on their way to and from work and running errands if they can feel safer.
Since March, 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. For drivers, that means traffic has been shifted across the interstate, lanes have been narrowed, and speed limits have been reduced.
Since June, there have been nine accidents that have claimed seven lives on I-65 between Southport Road and Columbus.
“A lot of people are calling it ‘die-65’ instead of I-65,” former Greenwood mayor Margaret McGovern said. “When one stretch of the highway has so many deaths over a short period of time, something is terribly wrong. So many accidents have occurred you feel like you’re really taking a chance when you get on 65.”
McGovern has lived in Greenwood for more than 20 years and has never seen this much construction or felt this unsafe on I-65.
Indiana Department of Transportation officials and police have reminded drivers to slow down and pay attention. But said she believes many motorists aren’t listening.
People are driving too fast through work areas, and that becomes a risk for other drivers on the road, McGovern said.
“Slow it way down. Lower the speed to 40. Lanes are too narrow and the speed limit is too fast for that number of cars to get through,” McGovern said.
When accidents happen, as they have multiple times this summer, the impact is felt across the county. This summer, two separate accidents shut down the interstate, detouring traffic to U.S. 31. From Amity all the way to the Smith Valley Road in Greenwood, traffic was stop and go for hours.
“When you see semis two and three wide on U.S. 31 and cars are bumper-to-bumper-to-bumper, you know something is wrong with I-65,” Greenwood resident Joan Elliot said. “U.S. 31 and State Road 135, the traffic has been awful. It’s just quadrupled. I try to stay off the roads and avoid driving when possible, but sometimes I just have to grin and bear it.”
And U.S. 31 is also under construction right now. Crews have been working on the highway, just south of Worthsville Road, to replace a small bridge. In fact, starting today, traffic is being shifted across the highway, so both northbound and southbound traffic will be on one side of the highway while workers replace a section of the bridge. That work could take four weeks, according to an INDOT news release.
For Cook, the added traffic on U.S. 31 has forced her to leave earlier in the morning or risk being late. And she has definitely noticed when there is an accident on I-65.
For her, the stress of driving on the interstate is often due to other motorists who fail to slow down in construction zones, don’t pay attention to what they’re doing or don’t know where they’re going, she said.
The construction, congestion and behavior of the other drivers in a hurry are the biggest risks on I-65, Greenwood resident Beth Hopewell said. Hopewell doesn’t even like her 24-year-old daughter driving on I-65.
“There are a lot of safety risks, and it’s unpredictable every day,” Hopewell said. “A lot of people moving around, a lot of people cutting other drivers off and being aggressive when it’s obviously a stupid idea. I’ve used I-65 for almost 20 years, and it’s the worst I’ve ever seen it.”
Traffic is even worse during rush hour because of the congestion, creating higher levels of frustration because people are just trying to get home after a long day, said Hopewell, who lives near Worthsville and Sheek roads and works in Carmel.
Her commute used to take close to an hour; but to avoid I-65 or to take the interstate and deal with traffic, that commute is now around an hour and a half, she said.
Trafalgar resident Ed Fischer said he avoids I-65 if he needs to be anywhere or has any errands to run.
“I-65 is too much of a hassle. We are avoiding it until the construction is complete,” he said. “You might as well go through town. It might be a lot of wear and tear on your brakes, but it’s better than risking your life on I-65.”
Here is a look at accidents on Interstate 65 since July:
- June 11: A man was killed when his motorcycle went off the road near Columbus.
- June 11: Two children and their great-aunt were killed when a semi crashed into the sport utility vehicle they were riding in while traffic was stopped due an accident near Columbus.
- July 23: A driver struck a construction barrier while reaching down to pick up a cigarette near the Edinburgh exit.
- July 23: A wrong-way driver was killed after crashing into a semi and two other vehicles near the Main Street exit in Greenwood.
- July 24: A truck hit a construction barrier near the Franklin exit.
- Aug. 5: An Illinois man was killed when the van he was riding in went off the road near the Franklin exit.
- Aug. 9: A semi went off the road between the Main Street and County Line Road exits.
- Aug. 11: A semi hit a construction median near the Whiteland exit and caught fire.
- Aug. 15: A woman was killed when her car hit a construction barrier and a semi near the County Line Road exit.
“There are a lot of safety risks, and it’s unpredictable every day. A lot of people moving around, a lot of people cutting other drivers off and being aggressive when it’s obviously a stupid idea. I’ve used I-65 for almost 20 years, and it’s the worst I’ve ever seen it.”
Greenwood resident Beth Hopewell, on traffic on Interstate 65