For motorists who depend on the Interstate 65 and State Road 46 interchange, the summer of confusion is slowly beginning to wind down.
Just after the Memorial Day weekend, work crews began shutting down lanes or ramps at the interchange on the west side of Columbus almost every weekend.
The interchange has become a maze of orange construction barrels, closed I-65 entrance and exit ramps and backed-up traffic as crews continue work on a $1.4 million concrete-patching project.
The work involves repairing joints and cracks in the top level of the concrete pavement. In some sections of the road, the work requires removing and replacing portions of the concrete slabs.
American Contracting and Services Inc. of Jeffersonville is repairing the I-65 concrete surface between County Road 100N and Carr Hill Road, and also repairing all four ramps that offer an entrance or exit to I-65 at State Road 46.
While the Indiana Department of Transportation has sent out weekly advisories through the media to local residents to warn of ramp closings or interstate delays, many I-65 travelers who are passing through have been confused by the lane closings, and navigating the ramps.
For example, large signs on I-65 warn drivers that at times, if they exit, the entrance ramp back on I-65 would be closed.
This past weekend, the southbound entrance ramp from State Road 46 to I-65 was closed, causing some drivers to become confused.
Some drivers went around the barrels and found themselves blocked from the ramp with no way to turn. Their only option was a U-turn on State Road 46 to access I-65 going northbound, traveling to the next exit to turn around.
Bartholomew County sheriff’s deputies were called out to keep a police car with lights running on the ramp to block drivers attempting to access the southbound lanes.
By Tuesday, the concrete patching on the right lane of southbound I-65, which caused the southbound ramp closing, is expected to be finished, according to patching crew supervisor Curtis Grimm.
But after a three-day reprieve for Labor Day weekend, State Road 46 ramp closings or lane closings on the ramps may resume, Grimm said.
Relief is near
“Last weekend was the last time they will have a lane closure for this project on either the northbound or southbound (I-65) lanes,” Grimm said. “But they’ll be working on the ramps after the Labor Day weekend.”
After Tuesday, INDOT crews also will work on small projects along a 1.6-mile stretch of I-65 between County Road 100N and Carr Hill Road, INDOT spokesman Harry Maginity said.
While crews will be on site weekdays as well as weekends, only partial lane closures on ramps should be expected weekdays, Maginity said.
The Indiana Department of Transportation is attempting to get all work on the project completed by mid-September, so visitors to Brown County and several regional fall festivals don’t encounter delays and inconveniences, Maginity said.
But for a number of local residents who frequently use the interchange, the end of delays, stalled traffic, unexpected lane closures and other hassles can’t come soon enough.
For Ogilville resident Ed Rafferty, the problem isn’t limited to just one interchange. It’s that project coupled with another closure at State Road 11 near Jonesville, on top of a $54.7 million project to repair 20 bridges over a 21-mile stretch of I-65 between Seymour and Scottsburg.
“It seems that if they are working on a road construction project here, they are also tying up the next two interchanges,” Rafferty said. “So not only do you have this hassle, but you are caught at the next two places.”
“I came north from Louisville one time but couldn’t get off until I got to Edinburgh in order to go home on State Road 46 West,” said Hickory Hills Addition resident Gretchan Hashimoto. “And after finally making it back through downtown Columbus, I wound up delayed by a train.”
If circumstances would have allowed crews to stick to the original schedule, all the motorist hassles would have been over by the end of this week.
But when American Contracting became bogged down with unexpected problems on bridge work its workers were performing on the Seymour-to-Scottsburg project, they ended up two weeks behind schedule in Columbus in June, Maginity said.
In addition, continued rain during the first weekend of August canceled a weekend-long construction blitz, he said.
Benefit of weekend schedule
“Overall, I think they are doing pretty well there,” Maginity said. “But when you get rain all weekend or encounter unexpected terrain problems on any project, delays can’t be avoided.”
During most weekends, work began at 7 p.m. Friday and ended no later than noon Monday.
The around-the-clock weekend blitzes are part of an accelerated road program initiated by the state designed to lower traffic disruption on weekdays, Maginity said.
While INDOT ordered the weekend blitzes, it allowed the general contractor and subcontractors to set their own hours to ensure they would get the work done on time, he said.
By working weekends, crews also can shorten the time on an average construction project by six to eight weeks, according to INDOT engineering estimates.
Luckily, driver confusion at or near the interchange has not resulted in any serious injuries or deaths, the Columbus Police Department reports.
“It’s been more of an inconvenience than anything,” spokesman Sgt. Matt Harris said. “Most local residents know how to get around the obstacles, but it’s a lot tougher for out-of-town people.”
Rafferty, who lived in Taylorsville before moving to southwest Bartholomew County, said he knows how to avoid the construction areas.
“And I do it because I don’t need the hassle,” Rafferty said. “But if you are from out of town, you are at the mercy of whatever is going on. You just wait your turn to get through.”
County road detours
Maginity is aware of popular alternate routes, such as getting onto County Road 325W behind the Westhill Shopping Center, heading north to County Road 330W and finally moving east along Tannehill Road to emerge near I-65 in Taylorsville.
However, liability issues prevent INDOT from even suggesting routes on county roads or municipal streets that are not under the state’s jurisdiction, Maginity said.
For that reason, INDOT has directed motorists to use U.S 31 from Scottsburg to Taylorsville to avoid delays on I-65 this summer.
“For me, that’s crazy,” Tipton Lakes resident Esmeralda Gonzalez said. “I have to work in Seymour three times a week, and going that route takes a lot more time.”
While Maginity expressed concern that U.S. 31 travelers might experience backups in Columbus by taking on detour traffic, city police have not seen a noticeable increase in traffic along National Road this summer, Harris said.
However, backups on I-65 have become a somewhat regular weekend occurrence this summer.
I-65 traffic was stopped in both southbound lanes along the eight miles stretching from Taylorsville to Jonathan Moore Pike on Aug. 16, a Saturday, Maginity said.
INDOT has warned of the slow-moving or stopped traffic on I-65 near the State Road 46 interchange particularly at high-traffic times on the weekends.
Gonzalez said she’s tired of not knowing what to expect every time she attempts to use the State Road 46 interchange.
“I hope they finish soon, but I’m also crossing my fingers that they do the work right so we don’t have these problems again for a long time,” she said.