Monday, August 14, 2006

Indiana Drivers Pay the Ultimate Toll

Report: Toll road ranks 1st in Indiana in deaths per mile

August 14, 2006

The Associated Press
Copyright 2006

SOUTH BEND - Millions of drivers use the Indiana Toll Road each year, but high speeds and traffic can make for dangerous travel as the highway ranks first in the state in deaths per mile, a newspaper found.

The South Bend Tribune reported this week that 19 people were killed on the toll road in 2005, and 11 have died this year on the 157-mile corridor that the state recently leased to a private Spanish-Australian company to operate. The numbers show the road is first in deaths per mile compared to other interstates, according to the newspaper's analysis of data provided by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

Earlier this month, a semi plowed into a line of vehicles stopped in a construction zone, killing the truck driver and four members of one family riding in a van, state police said.
Officials said the accident is another reminder of how several factors, including traffic, high speeds, construction and distracted driving, can combine to make the road dangerous.

‘‘Safety is definitely our top priority,'' said Matt Pierce, spokesman for ITR Concession Co., which operates the Toll Road. ‘‘We want people to feel safe and be safe when they are on our roads.''

More than 10 million vehicles, including many tractor-trailers, use the toll road each year, according to INDOT. And although the maximum speed limit is 70 mph, many drivers go faster.

‘‘I think probably the biggest challenge on the toll road is to control the speed, because speed seems to be one of the biggest causes of accidents up there,'' said Sgt. Trent Smith of the Indiana State Police.

Construction zones can also be a problem because cars must slow down and often have to merge into one lane.

‘‘People really need to remember that work zones really are the most dangerous area on highways,'' said Megan Kaderavek, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Transportation.

Distracted drivers also pose a problem. People eat, talk on mobile phones, fiddle with gadgets and do other things that take their attention from the road, officials said.

Mark McCoy is part of a crew repairing two toll road bridges that span the St. Joseph River. McCoy, president of RL McCoy Inc. of Columbia City, said drivers need to learn to slow down, be courteous and pay attention to what is going on around them.

‘‘It's hard to be aware if they are preoccupied with something else,'' McCoy said. ‘‘People on cell phones are probably the scariest people. You really don't know if they know what they are doing.''

Officials hope better semi inspections and more police patrols will help improve driver behavior. In July, state police said that money from the state's 75-year lease agreement will allow the agency to increase the number of troopers patrolling the toll road from around 20 to more than 40.

Smith said the police presence will help make the road more safe.

‘‘As people see more and more police cars up there ... they'll start to slow down a little more, they'll start to pay attention a little more,'' he said.

© 2006 The Associated Press: