Indiana State Police closed about 60 miles of Interstate 65 between Taylorsville and Louisville for hours Tuesday, trying to clear about 45 accidents caused by near-whiteout conditions.
None of the crashes involved serious injury, according to State Police Sgt. Jerry Goodin. At one point, however, there were so many accidents simultaneously that snowplows couldn’t get on the interstate.
“We had snow, wind, cold temperatures and a morning commute — and those things just don’t mix,” Goodin said.
Most of the accidents were slide-offs. But near Louisville, some motorists spun into concrete barricades on either side of the interstate, causing multivehicle crashes.
Tuesday’s interstate closing is the second this month. Northbound lanes between Taylorsville and Whiteland were closed Jan. 7 for a 14-hour cleanup of four jackknifed semis.
Slick and hazardous conditions on I-65 are expected to continue today, according to state police. Although visibility improved since Tuesday morning, subzero wind chills will not help road conditions, Goodin said.
Motorists are advised to triple their estimated travel time if heading out on I-65 today.
Police first reopened I-65’s southbound lanes briefly near midday Tuesday but closed them again after a semi accident blocked traffic between the U.S. 31 exit at Taylorsville and U.S. 50 in Seymour, just south of Jonesville exit.
Northbound lanes opened at midmorning Tuesday. The State Department of Transportation advised motorists to slow down and watch for snowplows continuing to work. The I-65 southbound lanes reopened at about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, after the semi crash was cleared.
Closing that much of the interstate at one time is rare, said Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center Director Edward Reuter, a former Indiana State Police trooper who once patrolled there.
An estimated 45,000 vehicles travel Interstate 65 through Bartholomew County every day, Reuter had said previously.
Roads keep police busy
While state police were handling I-65 crashes and slide-offs, city police and sheriff deputies took care of weather-related problems on city streets and county highways, where drifts as high as 3 feet were reported Tuesday.
There were about 10 property damage accidents and about seven slide-offs reported in Bartholomew County, described as low numbers that Reuter attributed to less traffic because of widespread school closings.
However, county officials were keeping a wary eye on U.S. 31, where many I-65 motorists exited to find a way around the interstate crashes. U.S. 31 was snow-packed and slick, resulting in slower traffic, Reuter said.
The most serious local accident involved a motorist who rolled a vehicle on Southern Crossing, between U.S. 31 and County Road 400S, early Tuesday but walked away uninjured, said Maj. Todd Noblitt, chief deputy for the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s
Some county roads, particularly in southern Bartholomew County, have significant drifting, although not enough shut them, Noblitt said. The biggest obstacle is that drivers can’t define where the roadway is, he said.
Highest snowfall in south
The National Weather Service reported the area’s heaviest snowfall was about 4 inches in Seymour.
Columbus received between 2 to 3 inches of snow, according to Bryan Burton, manager of city garage operations. However, the snowfall itself wasn’t the biggest issue. High winds, gusting to 35 mph, were causing snow to drift on main city streets, with city trucks having to make repeat passes before moving on to secondary streets.
Five city trucks were out at 4 a.m. Tuesday, and by 6 a.m. 16 trucks were working. City crews estimated they would need most of Tuesday to clear the streets.
Nearly 350 tons of salt is used with every snowfall within the city. City crews already have gone through nearly all the 1,200 tons of salt stockpiled for use this winter and are awaiting a 500-ton salt delivery that is expected soon, Burton said.
Tuesday, city officials were calculating how much additional money might be needed to fund salt purchases through the rest of the winter.
In the county, Bartholomew County Emergency Management asked residents to refrain from unnecessary travel Tuesday as drifts as high as three feet were reported in the southern part of the county near Southern Crossing and U.S. 31.
“Any county road may be suspect at this point” because of drifting, emergency management Director Dennis Moats said.
Subzero temperatures forecast for the next few days mean slick spots on roadways will continue to make travel difficult through the end of the week, he said.
All 15 county highway trucks were working at 5 a.m. Tuesday and drivers would stay out until they were too tired to continue, said Danny Hollander, Bartholomew County engineer. Getting to secondary roads was delayed as drivers had to repeatedly clear main roads, Hollander said. No county roads were closed, although Hollander said he expected more drifting today.
Schools close again
Dozens of school districts across southern and central Indiana closed Tuesday.
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. and Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. initially announced two-hour delays by about 7 a.m. elected to close. Jennings County was among the first to announce it would close.
BCSC officials were talking with county highway crews at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday trying to determine if the delay could work, but the wind and drifting county roads forced the decision to close.
“We were trying to err on the side of safety,” said Superintendent John Quick, who admitted that he too is tired of this weather and knows everyone wants to get back to their school routines.
Whether students return to class today will depend on how quickly the wind drops and how quickly county crews can clear the nearly 700 miles of county roads.
Tuesday was the fifth day BCSC has missed due to weather. The school corporation has six built-in snow days in its calendar.
“We’ve come back to school after graduation,” Quick said of past severe winters. “I think seven is the most we have ever made up.”
However, missing five days this early in the winter may be a first for the school corporation, he said.