On the road: Traffic moves slowly through one lane of Interstate 70 westbound on Wednesday afternoon while workers pave the shoulder of the highway near mile marker 3. Staff photo by Austen Leake
On the road: Traffic moves slowly through one lane of Interstate 70 westbound on Wednesday afternoon while workers pave the shoulder of the highway near mile marker 3. Staff photo by Austen Leake
Roadwork began this week on Interstate 70 from the Indiana/Illinois state line to the 5-mile marker, kicking off the Wabash Valley’s road construction season.

And while the Indiana Department of Transportation and Indiana State Police are taking every precaution to keep construction zones safe, both agencies want to remind Hoosiers that they, too, play a role in highway safety.

Debbie Calder, INDOT spokesperson for the Crawfordsville District, said each construction zone along I-70 is outfitted with warning signs and portable electronic signs that alert motorists to lane closures and stopped/ slowed traffic ahead.

But it’s up to each driver to see and heed those signs.

“Sadly, many crashes result from drivers not paying attention, following too closely or driving too fast,” Calder said. “INDOT works to educate motorists to obey the speed limits, minimize distractions, be attentive and not follow too closely especially in our work zones.”

Interstate 70 through Vigo and Clay counties the past several years has seen several deadly accidents arise from failures to heed such precautions.

Two people were killed on the same day in separate accidents last year on I-70 in Vigo County, in which police found the at-fault driver failed to see stopped traffic ahead of them.

Just after 9 a.m. March 16, 2019, Pierre St. Jean, a French-Canadian semi driver, failed to see traffic stopped near the 11-mile marker on I-70.

St. Jean crashed into the car driven by Morgan Johnson, 20, of Reelsville, Indiana, causing the car to burst into flames. In all, the crash involved two tractor trailers and five passenger vehicles.

State police said St. Jean was driving under the posted speed limit when he crashed, but, for whatever reason, didn’t stop before causing the chain-reaction crash. Johnson was killed in the accident.

The accident involving St. Jean and Johnson caused a miles-long backup that stretched back to the 17-mile marker where a second fatal accident happened.

In that crash, semi driver Joe L. Robinson Jr., 49, of Indianapolis, dropped his sandwich, bent to pick it up and failed to recognize the backup. He tried to avoid a collision by swerving into the left lane. By that point it was too late, police said, and the semi struck the rear of another semitrailer.

The fuel lines of Robinson’s semi ruptured, causing the cab of that truck to become engulfed in flames. April Robinson, 45, of Indianapolis, was in the sleeper berth of Robinson’s tractor-trailer during the accident and was killed in the crash.

ISP Sgt. Matt Ames said motorists should continue exercising caution in construction zones, but not to the point it creates a road hazard.

Ames patrolled the new construction zones on Wednesday. He said the zone between the state line and the 5-mile marker transitions from the standard 70 mph speed to a 45-mph speed limit for the construction area, but some drivers were slowing down to as little as 15 mph.

“Driving that much slower than the posted speed limit causes backups in the construction zone, sometimes stretching back out of the construction zone,” Ames said. “And when that happens, that’s when we can have accidents like we’ve seen in recent years.”

One such incident involving backed up traffic at the 17-mile marker claimed the lives of two young children in 2017.

In July 2017, semi driver Amritpal Singh crashed into a van driven by Christina Bereda, then of Beavercreek, Ohio.

Driving approximately 63 mph, with traffic snarled just outside a construction zone, Singh looked away from the road and failed to see stopped traffic ahead, state police said. The collision killed Brennen Bereda, 5, and Finley Bereda, 16 months. Christina and son Jordan Bereda, 3, were critically injured in the crash and flown to Indianapolis-area hospitals.

Ames said the construction zone along I-70 through Terre Haute is well marked, but it’s up to drivers to avoid handling anything that can take their eyes off the road ahead of them.

“All we’re asking people to do to keep construction crews, troopers and fellow motorists safe is obeying posted speed limit signs, and please not drive distracted,” Ames said. “Whether it’s changing your radio station, eating or using your cell phone in the construction zone, any of those things can distract you more than long enough.”

Calder said INDOT will continue taking steps to make work zones safer in the years ahead.

“INDOT has plans of installing three overhead message boards on I-70 that opens for bids in February of next year, along with nine cameras,” Calder said.

“Then in 2022, an additional four overhead message boards will be installed with five more cameras. The overhead message boards can provide information to motorists on crashes up ahead and or lane closures.”

Calder said unique to the beginning of this year’s construction season, INDOT has measured a sizable drop off in traffic across the state. Calder said Gov. Eric Holcomb’s stay-home order addressing COVID-19 has cut traffic by more than 50 percent.
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