Northbound commuters from Columbus faced detours off I-65 on their way toward Indianapolis as the interstate was blocked by a semi crashing and catching on fire.
And in Johnson County, schools warned parents their children would be late getting home from school Tuesday. Businesses along U.S. 31 — the primary detour route — watched near-standstill traffic from Amity to Whiteland and beyond.
The talk of the day from Columbus to Greenwood was how to avoid the backups and traffic jams with a huge section of Interstate 65 closed.
A 17-mile stretch of the interstate closed early Tuesday after a semi struck a concrete construction barrier and a fuel tank caught fire at 6:20 a.m. just north of the Franklin exit, damaging the roadway and requiring 10 hours of cleanup and repair.
Indiana State Police shut down the interstate going north into Indianapolis and rerouted traffic onto U.S. 31 at the Taylorsville exit.
“Every time they close down the interstate, it’s just a total mess,” Bartholomew County Sheriff Chief Deputy Chris Lane said.
Each weekday, nearly 900 Bartholomew County residents begin a daily commute into Johnson County to work, while 1,000 more drive farther north to jobs in Indianapolis, based on 2013 statistics from the Indiana Department of Revenue.
Tuesday’s detour meant that two lanes of traffic were going into one lane on the Taylorsville exit ramp for the detour, Lane said. That generated traffic slowing down as it approached the detour, he said.
One property-damage accident was reported during the detour, a rear-end collision in the northbound lanes about 12:30 p.m. between a car and a truck at mile marker 74 approaching the Taylorsville exit, Lane said. The interstate did not close at that accident site, but traffic did slow down even further as it was cleaned up, investigators said.
Deputies said the accident probably happened as traffic slowed approaching the detour.
Accidents on I-65, a key trucking and commuter route into Indianapolis, have proven dangerous and even deadly this summer.
Two cousins, Addyson Engle, 6, of Commiskey and Keghan D. McCrory Engle, 10, of Hayden, died when their SUV struck the back of a stopped semi on southbound I-65 near the Columbus exit about 5 p.m. June 11. The semi had stopped for a motorcycle accident involving a fatality that was in the I-65 median south of the Columbus exit, Indiana State Police said. Motorcyclist Hunter D. Patton, 58, of DuPont, died at the scene, police said.
The driver of the SUV, Kathy Scroggins, 55, of Commiskey, died from her injuries June 20. Another SUV passenger, 6-year-old Bryannah Reynolds, survived the accident and was released from Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis about a week after the accident.
In Tuesday’s accident, semi driver Cellou Sow, 54, of Georgia, was not injured.
The shutdown was at least the third time I-65 south of Indianapolis has been closed in the past month.
Whenever I-65 closes, U.S. 31 is hit with heavy traffic as trucks heading from Louisville to Indianapolis try to continue on their route and commuters heading to Indianapolis looked for another way north.
“Backed up. Very backed up,” said Stacey Breitzke, manager of Circle K at U.S. 31 and Whiteland Road, describing Tuesday’s traffic snarl. “It’s been congested, and we are usually hit hard in the morning. But I got here at 6 a.m., and 31 has been busy ever since.”
Despite the slow pace on U.S. 31, most of the people who stopped in the store complained about traffic and the number of accidents that have happened on I-65, Breitzke said.
At Ricker’s convenience store at U.S. 31 and Worthsville Road, manager Rita Hicks said traffic had been bumper-to-bumper on the northbound side of U.S. 31 since 8 a.m.
With the additional traffic on U.S. 31, Franklin school bus drivers had to find alternative routes to get students home safely, without getting stuck in traffic.
Franklin school officials sent out alerts to parents, letting them know that children could be getting home from school later than usual due to the accident on I-65.
“Most of our routes, we don’t really have a good way to avoid the traffic,” Franklin transportation director Doug Dickinson said. “We don’t really have too many options.”
Dickinson told his bus drivers to be patient and not take any unnecessary risk to get students home on time.
As school buses left the elementary schools, the school district posted updates on Twitter and Facebook to let parents know.