Contractors discuss interstate project

The contractor charged with completing the three-year project to widen Interstate 65 to three lanes from Walesboro to Seymour plans to have nearly 80 percent of the new concrete pavement in place by year’s end.

Scott O’Neal, project manager with E&B Paving, talked about the work it will take to finish the $143 million project on schedule by Aug. 17, 2020, during a construction progress meeting Thursday. The meeting at Hampton Inn in Seymour was attended by just five people besides contractors, INDOT officials and the press.

O’Neal gave his presentation after Brian Pierson, the project’s lead designer with United Consulting, discussed the basics of the project, including those involved in starting it to members of the design build team to the strategies in place to complete the project.

Pierson said the project has been divided into three packages.

Package A involves the north end from Walesboro to just north of the Jonesville exit, while Package B is the south end between the bridge over the East Fork White River to U.S. 50 at Seymour. Those packages will be completed first.

Package C involves the area in between the north and south ends, Pierson said.

That package will be the last to be completed because of the number of bridges in it, Pierson said.

He said many of the bridges have to be widened first so two lanes of traffic can be maintained both northbound and southbound during construction.

O’Neal said both the northbound and southbound lanes in Package A will be finished by year’s end along with the southbound lanes in Package B.

O’Neal said by the end of 2018, the first year of the project, about 18 percent of the new concrete pavement was in place despite numerous weather delays, and the plan is to get that to nearly 80 percent by the end of this year.

Franz Hardesty, a construction manager with E&B Paving, briefly discussed some of the changes contractors have made to try to decrease the number of wrecks in the 14-mile stretch of the project.

According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, there have been 237 wrecks with 68 injuries and five fatalities.

Three of the fatalities occurred Feb. 14 when five vehicles collided in the southbound lanes of the construction zone.

Police reported a tractor-trailer ran into the back of a recreational vehicle, causing a chain reaction accident. Some of the vehicles involved in the accident caught fire.

Hardesty said other truckers reported they had warned the driver of the tractor-trailer who triggered the wreck about the reduced speeds in the construction zone.

He said E&B, through the state, has received complaints about the markings for lane shifts and understands they can be hard to see at times, especially in the winter and when the sun hits them wrong.

Hardesty said it also can be confusing when temporary lane markings are removed from concrete.

“Then you have that piece of concrete that’s clean,” Hardesty said. “It does get confusing. We get complaints regularly, and we address them as soon as we can. We started making all the lines and shifts double.”

Another move aimed at improving safety involves increasing signage, he said.

“We have put ‘Speed limit’ signs and ‘Trucks use left lane’ signs every two miles on the project,” Hardesty said. “Every time there was an accident, they were in the left lane.”

Hardesty said most of the truck drivers, especially those working for larger companies, know about the need to move to the left lane.

Truckers who ignore the signs and have a wreck are ticketed by state troopers, who have increased their work in the project area, he said.

“Our guys out there have said that since the beginning of the project, they do feel like the semis are slowing down because of the (police) presence,” Hardesty said.

O’Neal said the issue of traffic safety is discussed a lot, and a plan to place even more signage has been brought up.

“I don’t know if that’s going to change anything because a lot of people ignore them,” he said. “I wish it was that simple to add more signs and save some lives.”

O’Neal, who lives in Jasper, said he has learned from talking with people from this area that a lot of accidents have occurred on the interstate in the past. He said most of those he has talked to like the idea of the project to make travel safer in this area once it is complete.

O’Neal also discussed an incident management plan for contractors and emergency responders, including INDOT officials, state troopers, dispatchers, firefighters, emergency medical services personnel and others.

“Next week, we have our annual incident management meeting,” he said.

The purpose of that meeting is to make sure everyone is communicating well.