Since April 2020, 1.25 miles of road have been in the process of being reconstructed on East U.S. 50 in Seymour.
The construction zone, located between Agrico Lane/Meadowbrook Drive and U.S. 31, has been the site of changing traffic patterns, narrow lanes, imprecise markings and traffic jams for area drivers.
According to the Seymour Police Department, there have been 193 wrecks in the zone since construction began, accounting for approximately one-fifth of the department’s total crash response..
Jeremy Helmsing, a public information officer for the department, said motorists are driving in unsafe ways due to the altered traffic patterns in the construction zone.
“A lot of stop-and-go traffic, a lot of what we call ‘slinky-ing,’ where cars will go up the road for a while, then they’ll suddenly stop, maybe not even near an intersection,” he said. “That leads to a lot of the crashes we have.”
He said wrecks in the area have been almost exclusively rear-end collisions and there have been a variety of infractions in the construction zone, like speeding, failure to signal and changing lanes in an area where the driver must maintain it.
These infractions, Helmsing said, are the result of one problem.
“Most of it is failure to allow that space cushion,” he said. “That’s kind of what we want to get out, to expect delays and allow that space cushion to be there because that’s your reaction time.”
Peak times for traffic in the construction zone have been from 7:30 to about 9 a.m., noon to 1 p.m. and 3:30 to around 6 p.m, Helmsing said.
Many accidents happen during these times due to traffic patterns not being established, he said.
“Once you see a big line of cars and there’s stop-and-go traffic, that’s usually when accidents happen,” he said. “It’s still frustrating and it’s still going to take people a while to get through town, but as far as accidents go, that’s usually how they work.”
In 2021, there has been an increase in personal injury wrecks in the area, but no construction workers have been injured. Vehicle occupants have been the only ones injured in the area.
Helmsing attributes the increase in personal injury wrecks to increased speeds due to traffic patterns being established in the construction zone for a while.
The speed limit for the construction zone is 35 mph, down from 40, and isn’t decided by law enforcement but by Indiana Department of Transportation regulations.
Helmsing thinks the speed limit is a little high for the construction zone.
“In my personal opinion, I think it’s a little bit too fast through there with workers that close and the amount of lane shifting going on,” he said. “We would urge people to go even slower than what it says because it gives people that additional time to react to what’s going on.”
As for enforcing traffic laws in the area, Helmsing said SPD has discussed increased police presence in the area by having officers in the zone full time or have a rotating shift.
But in the end, he said it is tricky in practice.
“We try to be present, we try to go through with traffic, but as far as actually sitting alongside the road and occupying that runoff space or getting in the way of construction, it’s not really possible,” he said.
The police department is trying to simply inform local citizens about the traffic conditions in the construction zone to minimize damage and traffic violations.
“There’s no easy fix for enforcement,” he said. “The easiest fix, in our opinion, is to get the message out and just have people pay attention.”
He said a lack of attention has been a contributor to the wrecks in the construction zone.
“Almost inevitably, it’s a lack of attention on the part of the driver and in some kind of rushed situation,” he said. “They’re late to work, they’re late picking their kids up, they’re frustrated because they got bottled up behind a truck and they feel like they need to shoot out into the other lane, just a rushed driving style combined with a lack of attention.”