One driver brought a key to move a large piece of construction equipment, making room to get through what was supposed to be a closed road.
Others drove across nearby farm fields to bypass the unfinished roadway. And every day, drivers went right past multiple signs and barricades, warning them the road was closed, then had to turn around and head back.
One of the most recent problem areas was Whiteland Road, which was shut down for two months at Graham Road while a roundabout was built.
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But every time a road closes, police know they soon will get complaints about drivers that pass right by the barricades and try to go through anyway.
It happened on King Street in Franklin, which recently reopened. It even happened on roads closed around Franklin’s recent downtown festival, Smoke on the Square. And it continues happening on Smokey Row Road, just east of State Road 135, and Hurricane Road over Interstate 65, where workers are rebuilding a bridge.
“I can’t think of a project, where it’s large and it’s closed for many days, that we don’t get complaints,” Sheriff Doug Cox said.
That’s when he sends extra deputies to the area, specifically to watch for people driving around the barricades, even though that takes away from the other work they would be doing, such as patrolling neighborhoods and roads. But if they see a driver go around, move or ignore a road closed sign, they will get a ticket, he said.
“When we get complaints, we will sit there, and we will ticket people,” Cox said.
“It puts people’s lives at risk.”
And road construction crews want drivers to know that for them, the issue is a huge safety concern.
When workers are doing a job on what is supposed to be a closed road, they shouldn’t have to watch out for vehicles and should instead be able to focus on their work, said Dan Livingston, safety coordinator for Rieth-Riley Construction Co., which built the roundabout on Whiteland Road.
“When we are allowed to close a road, it puts us in high gear,” he said.
“It gives our guys a false sense of security to do their job and go all out.”
And they always keep in mind an accident two years ago that killed two of their workers when a truck came into a work zone on Interstate 69.
That’s why every worker is trained on safety and how to watch out for vehicles. That’s why they have spotters on each project to look out for vehicles coming towards workers. And that’s why crews take extra precautions, including wearing vests that will alert them if a vehicle is coming to giving air horns to workers closest to where roads are closed so they can quickly alert the rest of the crew if a vehicle is coming, he said.
Livingston is understanding of the frustration drivers face when a road is closed. He remembers talking to a delivery driver who had been detoured off Whiteland Road during the roundabout work and had no idea of where to go next. He reminds his workers to try not to get frustrated because the driver that comes through a road closure may have a family emergency and isn’t necessarily just disregarding the signs, he said.
But he also wants drivers to understand that the workers are there to do a job, and want to be able to do it safely, he said.
“We are just like you; we are just someone who has a job to do. We want to go to work, do our shift, do it safely, and we want to go home at night,” he said.
“It’s never our goal to make you late for work, or make you reroute.”
That message is the focus of a new safety campaign put together by the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Road Construction Awareness Corp., a group of road construction contractors and suppliers. You have likely seen the big orange signs along Indianapolis area interstates with the message: “Slow down. Save a life. We’re all in this together.”
“We want them to understand, we aren’t barricades and barrels. We are moms and dads and brothers and sisters and children. We just want to go home at the end of the day,” said Tim Harvey, vice president of road construction safety awareness.
He has noticed over the years that drivers have become more impatient and more distracted. He remembers arguing with a driver in Richmond who was moving barricades out of her way so she could drive through a construction zone where the road was closed.
“People are geared toward instant information, instant gratification. Everything has to happen right now; everyone is in a hurry,” he said.
And while he gets frustrated with drivers, he also is too often reminded why their message is so important, including when a worker was recently killed after being struck in a work zone along State Road 37 in Noblesville.
That’s what his group had in mind when they created the message to drivers in construction zones, he said.
“They drive in the place we work. We are real people. Drive through work zones as if are your own family members are out there working,” he said.
“We’re both playing in same sandbox, so we need to learn to get along.”