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Semi accidents litter 20-mile stretch of I-65

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NORTHBOUND lanes of Interstate 65 between Taylorsville and Whiteland reopened at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday after a 14-hour cleanup of four jackknifed semitrailers and rigs and repeated efforts to clear ice off the road.

While the southbound lanes remained open, the northbound lanes were closed at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday from Bartholomew to Johnson County after poor road conditions resulted in the accidents, Indiana State Police Sgt. Rich Myers said.

Two overnight slide-offs occurred on the interstate in the vicinity of the Taylorsville exit, with problems later Tuesday emerging between the Flatrock-Edinburgh exit and Whiteland, Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Harry Maginity said.

Only the northbound lanes at the Taylorsville exit were closed so U.S. 31 could be used as a detour to Indianapolis, Maginity said.

The decision to reopen the northbound lanes was made after an INDOT regional manager inspected the 20-mile stretch midafternoon Tuesday, Maginty said.

“We had four trucks going over and over that area overnight, plowing snow and treating the ice with a mixture of salt and magnesium chloride,” Maginity said. “After dawn, the sun came out, and that helped.”

There were extensive ongoing discussions between INDOT and the Indiana State Police about reopening the lanes, Maginity said. While INDOT felt that reopening the interstate would help the salt melt the ice, state troopers worried another jackknifed semi would make an already bad situation even worse, he said.

“That stretch was just a sheet of ice,” Myers said. “But if they didn’t get it reopened, we were going to have to get all traffic off the interstate. We weren’t sure we would have been able to do that.”

Since the arctic cold air arrived with snow Sunday night, Interstate 65 has been the worst area for weather-related traffic problems, said Chief Deputy Maj. Todd Noblitt of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.

However, State Police troopers have handled numerous calls of slide-offs and stranded motorists along the interstate, allowing local law enforcement officers to handle their own emergencies, Noblitt said.

The first major accident along I-65 was early Monday, when a semi overturned near the State Road 46 exit, causing traffic delays for 13 hours.

Shortly before 7 p.m. Monday, a minivan and semi collided at the off-ramp from northbound I-65 to the rest park four miles south of Taylorsville. The semi jackknifed while entering the rest park, which caused the minivan to strike the rear of the trailer, according to State Police spokesman Sgt. Noel Houze.

Two passengers in the minivan were transported to Columbus Regional Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, Columbus Fire Department spokesman Capt. Mike Wilson said.

While the crash caused between 50 to 75 gallons of diesel fuel to spill, state trooper David Owsley was able to plug the leak by using a bar of soap he obtained from the semi driver.

But while first responders were handling that accident, another northbound semi slid off one mile south of the rest park, German Township Chief Robert Drake said. A driver and passenger were uninjured.

Similar problems were reported elsewhere Tuesday along several stretches of Indiana interstates.

In northern Indiana, I-65 was closed between Lafayette and Merrillville because of hazardous driving conditions.

Near Fort Wayne, a semi jackknifed, blocking both northbound lanes of Interstate 69 and resulting in an indefinite closure.

A semi crash on I-70 a few miles west of Indianapolis shut down that highway.

Some roads in northwestern Indiana are impassable because of drifting snow, especially in Newton, Jasper and Lake counties, Maginity said.

Due to the subzero temperatures statewide, treatments to the state’s interstate system were largely ineffective, Maginity said. There are long stretches located between open fields that have little or nothing to block high winds and drifting snow, he said.

But Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center Director Ed Reuter, who regularly patrolled I-65 when he was with the State Police, believes some drivers deserve a degree of blame.

“Local people are usually in touch with road conditions and don’t push it,” Reuter said. “But on the interstate, you have a lot of people in transit going long distances. Many are aggressive and inpatient and refuse to slow down.”

Traffic volume is another factor, with up to 45,000 vehicle passing along I-65 through Bartholomew County every day, Reuter said. “When you figure in that many are listening to music or distracted by their GPS or something else, that’s still another factor.”

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