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I-65 projects mean motorists should be ready to slow down

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Commuters traveling on Interstate 65 could run into traffic delays as soon as next year when a new lane is added. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Commuters traveling on Interstate 65 could run into traffic delays as soon as next year when a new lane is added. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

Commuters should plan to shift onto the shoulder, drive in narrower lanes and slow down when construction crews start adding lanes to Interstate 65 next year.

If you’ve driven through the ongoing construction near Interstate 465 this year, expect to see similar types of delays and construction farther south. The state plans to spend about $139 million to add lanes on I-65 from Southport Road to Franklin in 2015.

The question that remains is how long motorists will have to deal with that construction. Work is expected to start in spring 2015, but the project hasn’t been designed, and companies have not been hired to do the work.

The new flyover ramps at I-465 should be done by then, but work on a new interchange at Worthsville Road in Greenwood is scheduled to start at the same time.

The Indiana Department of Transportation is rapidly designing the project after state lawmakers approved using $200 million for two large road projects. More than half of that is going to the southside I-65 project, which will add a lane in each direction along the 14-mile stretch ending at Franklin. In most places those new lanes will be added in the median so the state doesn’t need to buy new land for the road, INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said.

The state monitors traffic levels along all highways and interstates and tries to anticipate where traffic will grow before those vehicles start jamming roadways, Wingfield said. About 57,000 vehicles travel on I-65 just north of Franklin every day, but that number increases to about 100,000 vehicles per day near Southport Road, according to state traffic counts.

Although construction will cause some headaches for drivers, the additional lanes will make commuting in and out of Indianapolis smoother and quicker after the work is completed, INDOT Seymour District spokesman Harry Maginity said.

“This is a major win for southside commuters. There are a number of areas they’re wanting to put additional travel lanes in, and for this to score on the top and get funded, there’s a lot more hopefuls out there that have been put off,” Maginity said.

The project will be split into two phases. Both will be design-build, meaning the company that is hired will create the plans based on state guidelines and then construct it. That process will allow work to get started more quickly since the company can start construction in one area while still designing later sections, Wingfield said.

The project shouldn’t require crews to cut the interstate down to one lane in any area, but contractors may close shoulders, and motorists could end up squeezed closer to other vehicles because workers will need enough room to maneuver equipment, Wingfield said. Construction zones would likely be similar to the current work taking place around the I-465 interchange, he said.

Since the project hasn’t been designed yet, the state doesn’t know how long construction will last. State engineers will design about 25 percent of the project and set guidelines for companies, Wingfield said. The state will consider how long a company plans to take to build the project when hiring a construction firm, he said.

For example, the state selected one company to complete road work on Interstate 65/70 between the north and south splits in downtown Indianapolis last year because it promised the fastest time, even though the price was higher than other companies’ bids.

The I-65 widening project is being cut in two, which means two companies could be working in different places and potentially speed up the project, Wingfield said.

Drivers won’t be able to use Worthsville Road while crews build the new interchange next year, although that project shouldn’t greatly affect drivers on I-65 because the work to build ramps will take place on either side, Wingfield said. Drivers may have to shift around the construction when crews work to connect the new ramps to the highway.

Drivers might see some initial preparation work this fall on both projects. That work could include utility workers relocating lines or machinery clearing areas for construction next year, Wingfield said.

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