William W. Hurst
Law Office of William W. Hurst, LLC
50 S. Meridian St., Suite 600, Indianapolis, IN 46204
What happens when you cross inexperienced companies managing enormous road construction projects with poor oversight? You get delays if you’re lucky and death if you’re not.
Spirits and hopes were high in early 2008 when contractors selected by the Indiana Department of Transportation broke ground on the first of a series of projects aimed at extending I-69 from Indianapolis to Evansville, most notably giving people a clear route from Indianapolis to Indiana University basketball and football games. The contractors completed the first stage of the work in a timely fashion, and the first part of the extension was opened to the public just a year-and-a-half later. Almost immediately, however, things began to go wrong. The new route required a detour that was unannounced and lacked sufficient signage to properly instruct drivers. A number of accidents resulted, ranging from drivers careening off dead-ends to finding themselves driving the wrong way into oncoming traffic.
Since that time nearly seventy additional miles of the project have opened to the public, but two very important and visible sections of the project remain uncompleted: the portion of the road linking Indianapolis and Martinsville and the portion of the road linking Indianapolis and Bloomington. The portion leading to Bloomington has been the most heavily scrutinized due to its effect on gameday traffic in an out of Indiana University. Construction was initially scheduled to be completed by October 2016, but due to a series of delays and setbacks allegedly caused by mismanagement, the new projected date is October 2018. All the while, Bloomington and its neighboring small towns have been left dealing with the traffic mess.
The project is being handled by a group of developers and contractors collectively known as I-69
Development Partners. The European company Isolux Corsan has led the effort and, as a result, have shouldered the “brunt” of the public backlash. That backlash has largely centered on Isolux’s lack of major roadway experience.
Prior to this project, Isolux had never developed a major roadway like I-69. In fact, according to Isolux’s own financial reports, the company has only developed an average of 93 miles of roads each year over the past decade. And the vast majority of that construction has been in India and Eastern Europe—where environmental rules, construction regulations, and driving patterns are all different. The I-69 expansion is far and away Isolux’s biggest roads contract.
The short answer is yes, accidents resulting in severe injuries and even death have occurred do to the ongoing construction and the longer it goes on the more accidents will result. In any construction zone, the rate of automobile collisions is bound to increase. Work-zone crashes account for approximately 2 percent of all fatal roadway crashes, and about 1.5 percent of all non-fatal roadway crashes. Despite the fact that the vast majority of accidents occur in non-work zones, studies have shown that the likelihood of being involved in a crash increases when you are in a work zone.
In addition to an increased likelihood of accidents, construction zones also lead to an increase in accident severity. It makes sense intuitively. On a normal road the only thing an unlucky motorist can collide with are other cars, barriers and the occasional tree. In a construction zone, however, the street is littered with enormous holes, spare building materials and large construction equipment.
It’s a lesson racing fans learned in 2014 when Formula 1 driver Jules Bianchi experienced a routine crash at Suzuka Circuit in Japan (video below). While the crash was routine, the circumstances and outcome were not due to the presence of heavy construction machinery. A lap earlier, another racer had slid off the track and into a tire barrier. Race officials dispatched a large front-loader to extract the car from the barrier and return it to the garage. Rather than colliding harmlessly with that tire barrier when he lost control of his car, Bianchi went careening into the front loader. Bianchi was put into a medically induced coma, but he ultimately succumbed to his injuries.
Motorists on I-69 have experienced the full spectrum of risks associated with road construction. The Indianapolis Star reported earlier this month that accidents in the area under construction have skyrocketed by nearly 60% annually during the past two years (construction this portion only began in 2014). In 2016, the number of crashes averaged out to just under one every single day. And while most work-zone crashes are not fatal—I-69 included—some Hoosiers have lost their lives. But even non-fatal crashes can be devastating.
The Indianapolis Star’s report told the story of 29-year-old Ryan Dixon. He fell asleep at the wheel when driving through the work zone last September. Prior to construction beginning, the road was separated by a large grass median. During construction, however, the median has been replaced with a line of cones. Dixon crossed over the cone barricade and slammed into a tractor-trailer. He spent nearly a week in the ICU with, among other things, a torn intestine. While the circumstances and nature of Dixon’s and the late Jules Bianchi’s accidents differ, their stories are the same: routine accidents became grave tragedies due to the presence of construction or construction equipment.
In June of this year, INDOT announced that it would take over the remainder of the $425+ billion project. The news provided some relief to those communities forced to deal with the consequences of not o poor oversight and Isolux’s inexperience. For better or worse, state officials appear to believe that INDOT will be able to make the October 2018 deadline without delay. Additionally, on July 13th Governor Holcomb announced a $4.7 Billion dollar infrastructure plan over the next five years which includes money to finish the final leg of the I-69 construction as well as money to repair I-465, I-70, and I-65.
Each day the I-69 project remains uncompleted is another day Hoosier motorists are exposed to the dangers of driving through a work zone. The Star theorized that those accidents have cost nearly a half-million dollars over the past two years—and that is not accounting for insurance deductibles or personal injury claims.
If you are involved in an accident in a work zone, you should contact an experienced Indianapolis Car Accident Lawyer right away. He or she will be able to guide you through the process of documenting the accident, organizing medical records, and protecting your rights in court.
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