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Some think travel ban eased too early

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A Greenwood woman looked at the sheet of ice on the road in front of her house Tuesday and decided there was no way she was going to try to get to work in Shelbyville.

Royanna Dougherty called off work before even trying to get out on the roads. She’s thankful her boss is considerate of her commute and her safety, so she doesn’t have to worry about getting into trouble for not showing up. But Dougherty knows not every worker is as lucky and was concerned about others who had to travel or at least tried to.

She thinks the county made the decision to reduce travel restrictions too early, which put drivers at risk for accidents.

“I think it was too early; I really do. You’re taking your life in your hands,” she said.

Roads throughout the county were as icy Tuesday morning as they had been the day before, but local officials said they lifted some travel restrictions to give more flexibility to businesses that wanted to open or workers who need to work for the money.

The county changed Monday evening from a travel warning banning all travel except in emergencies to a watch, which allows necessary travel such as going to and from work. Local government offices opened back up Tuesday, as did most area businesses.

The three-member elected board of county commissioners makes the final decision on travel restrictions. The board includes Brian Baird, Ron West and Tom Kite.

But area residents who were called in to work were having a hard time making it away from their homes. Some residents reported that roads were so icy that they turned around, headed home and called off work. Some vehicles traveling on state highways were moving as slowly as 20 mph.

Baird said the change in restrictions was made to give more flexibility for workers and employers to prepare to head back to work. Other neighboring counties, including Marion County, had reduced their travel restrictions earlier in the day, which also influenced the decision, Baird said.

“Conditions weren’t going to improve, and they’re not going to improve for a day or two, but how long do we stop travel?” Baird said.

Although the travel watch means drivers can start going to and from work, the watch level also indicates that road conditions are hazardous and both workers and employers should take that into account. Baird said he hoped that employers would be understanding if workers called in stating they couldn’t make the trip. Baird runs a business and had shut it down the past two days because he didn’t want his workers risking the roads.

“I don’t want my people to be out in unsafe conditions,” Baird said. “But if there are employees that can get in and help these businesses open up and be OK, I felt like that should be their option.”

Not all employers are so forgiving, Dougherty said. Taking away the travel restriction puts employees in danger. They are more likely to travel through hazardous conditions because they’re afraid of getting in trouble with bosses or getting fired, she said. She added she’s had jobs like those in the past.

“My opinion is that too many companies don’t even think about the safety of their employees and instead about their business being open and making money. They rather get you in there and do your job even though the roads are the way they are,” she said.

Greenwood resident Bernie Kellar turned back around after trying to head to work on icy roads Tuesday. County officials shouldn’t have reduced the travel warning to a travel watch, he said.

“I don’t think they had the public in mind. They had businesses in mind,” he said.

The commissioners gathered input from local officials including mayors, street and highway directors and police Sunday and Monday when considering changes to the restrictions, Baird said.

Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said he was not contacted to give input before the travel ban was lifted.

McGuinness met with local officials at the county emergency management office at noon Monday, when officials decided not to reduce the warning, but wasn’t contacted again until he received a voice mail from Baird around 5:15 p.m. informing him the restrictions were being reduced, he said.

The mayor didn’t hear from local manufacturers or businesses that were pushing to reopen Tuesday. He spent Monday helping plow city streets and communicating with police and plow drivers during the day. Roads in Franklin were very icy Monday evening, but McGuinness wouldn’t question the change made by the commissioners since it is ultimately their decision, he said.

Johnson Circuit Judge Mark Loyd did speak with Baird and was in favor of reducing the restrictions with a two-hour delay for county offices and courts. Due to closures for the holidays and the snow day Monday, Loyd said he thought it was necessary to get the courts open again so that criminal cases can be processed or divorces or custody cases resolved as soon as possible.

Roads aren’t great but were good enough for most workers, though not all, to be back to work, Loyd said.

“If we can safely get here and do that job, that’s what we should be doing. And that’s why I agreed wholeheartedly with the plan to open on a two-hour delay,” he said.

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