Southside commuters are swerving, merging and yielding a lot for road construction this summer — and there’s little relief in sight.
From Southport Road to Edinburgh and beyond, concrete testing barricades and orange traffic barrels on Interstate 65 have led drivers through myriad lane shifts and closures, adding precious time to rush-hour commutes, as the highway and bridges are rebuilt or repaired.
Alternative routes, including portions of U.S. 31, also are being revamped.
“There aren’t too many areas (of I-65) where we don’t have construction testing and inspection going on right now,” said Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Harry Maginity. “If you are driving from Indianapolis to Louisville (Ky.), you are going to see a lot of it all year.”
The biggest projects are on I-65 around Greenwood where about 63,000 cars travel both ways each day. Heavy machinery in the blocked-off medians and on bridges has made space in the travel lanes tight and twisting. Combined with reduced speeds, the journey in and out of Indianapolis can add more than hour of travel time for a trip between Southport and Edinburgh.
“Our drivers plan that a trip from I-465 on the Southside to Edinburgh is going to be 45 minutes slower,” said Tim Piper, owner of Same Day Transportation, Indianapolis, which has 35 trucks. “If there’s an accident, it’s going to be even longer.”
Overall, INDOT Construction Testing is doing three repair projects worth a combined $156 million on I-65 in the metro area. Four other projects to the Kentucky border cost another $130 million.
Though there is little immediate relief in sight, a few barriers should be removed by the end of the year.
Crews are expected to finish a 4.4-mile stretch from Southport Road to Main Street in Greenwood in November, where three lanes in each direction are being rebuilt. Workers are also adding auxiliary lanes next to the shoulders between the exits and entrances of the Southport, County Line Road and the Greenwood interchanges.
The bulk of the $35 million project is in the median, which is blocked off with concrete barriers. Drivers are reduced to 45 mph for most of the distance.
An odd feature of the lane realignment is that it blocks access to some exits for drivers in the left lanes. If motorists don’t stay in the right-most lane when southbound, they are denied access to the exits at County Line Road and Greenwood.
Maginity said the shuffling is confusing at first, but commuters are used to it.
“We have good signage and I haven’t seen that as an issue for people who drive that way every day,” Maginity said. After Labor Day, the alignment will be switched to the northbound lanes.
Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox said the size of the projects has made the traffic congestion, accidents and calls for emergency help the worst he’s ever seen.
“It’s really taking a toll on us, the fire department and on wreckers,” he said. “And it’s something that really is agitating the local folks.”
Above the highway, work is also being done; bridges at the Stop 11 Road and Emerson Avenue overpasses are being repaired.
Between Greenwood and the Ind. 44 Franklin exit, a distance of 11 miles, a massive $84 million project will add one lane in each direction, a job that will stretch into next year.
Three miles of highway are now being worked on in the median with traffic in both directions pushed to the sides. The other eight miles should be finished by October 2016.
“Any trip along I-65 is adding about a half-hour to my routes,” said Justin Cowles, a truck driver for 7UP said during a delivery in Edinburgh.
INDOT is also working on a $16 million “diverging diamond” interchange at Worthville Road south of the Greenwood exit. The crisscross design allows car to enter highways without waiting for a left-turn signal.
From Franklin to Edinburgh, crews are tearing up the concrete underneath the road for repair. In addition, bridges are being fixed at Blue River, Sugar Creek and Amity Ditch.
Lanes weave and trade sides in a French-inspired traffic pattern planned for a new I-65 Greenwood exit. Stephen Beard and Vic Ryckaert/The Star
Drivers looking to detour to other north-south routes will also run into work crews:
• Ind. 37 through Martinsville is being repaired and repaved for 4.6 miles between Burton Lane and Ind. 44. The work, which began in April and will last through the summer, includes single lane closures at night.
• On Ind. 67, the pavement on two bridges is being replaced over Sycamore Creek in Morgan County south of Bradford Woods, less than a mile north of Ind. 39. The work will be completed next year.
• A culvert is being repaired on U.S. 31, north of Johnson County Road 700 North. Traffic is being moved to one side during the repairs and the speed limit is reduced to 35 mph.
South of Edinburgh all the way to Kentucky, it’s much the same story on I-65.
David Taylor, who works for Best Excavating in Westport, about 35 miles southeast of Indianapolis, said he has simply avoided I-65 since the work began north of Edinburgh.
“I take (U.S) Route 31 whenever I can,” Taylor said. “I haven’t even tried I-65 for a while.”
But Taylor said even his detour is getting crowded and it’s especially packed if there is a delay, or worse, an accident on I-65.
That happened in July when a man driving a pickup the wrong way in the northbound lane collided head-on with a semitractor-trailer, causing an explosion and killing the pickup driver. Traffic was backed up for hours and Taylor said may drivers cut over to U.S. 31.
“It was swamped with cars,” he said.
Indians State Police said construction zones usually lead to an increase in accidents. One study in 2008 of 69 road projects in four states found accidents increased more than 60 percent in work zones.