Aug. 24, 2006
GRANGER, Ind. - Fire officials are questioning the safety of barriers recently placed along the Indiana Toll Road's emergency turnarounds by the highway's new private operator, warning that they could hamper their ability to reach crash victims.
Maintenance crews for the toll road's private operator, ITR Concession Co., recently placed barriers of sand-filled barrels along the 157-mile roadway's emergency turnarounds.
Matt Pierce, a spokesman for ITR Concession, said the barrels were placed along the turnarounds - located on the medians between eastbound and westbound lanes - to prevent unauthorized vehicles from using them and causing accidents.
But Liberty Township Fire Chief Bill Branham and other fire chiefs fear the barrels could threaten emergency responders' ability to reach crash victims, because the responders will lose precious minutes moving the barrels out of the way.
"Time is of the essence if someone is in a traffic accident with a car on fire or something like that," Branham said Wednesday.
He and other fire chiefs said they were not told about the barrels ahead of time, and only discovered them during the past week.
ITR Concession is a subsidiary of an Australian-Spanish consortium, Macquarie-Cintra, that won the bidding for the roadway's 75-year tolling rights with a $3.8 billion bid in January.
Branham said his department has had no direct contact with ITR Concession since it took over the toll road's operation at the end of June.
And Portage Fire Chief Bill Lundy said he only heard about the barrels "through the grapevine." He has since inspected those in his territory and said he only got the full story by calling Indiana State Police.
Pierce said the center barrels on the turnarounds are filled with only 100 pounds of sand and can be quickly moved by firefighters. But firefighters said it's not that simple.
For example, Hammond Assistant Chief Pat Moore said large fire trucks on the toll road travel in pairs, with the rear truck slowing traffic so the lead truck has room to swing out and make the turn into the emergency turnaround.
With the barrels in place, both trucks would have to stop, firefighters would have to get out, move the barrels, and get back on.
"It just isn't so simple or safe," Moore said.
Pierce said firefighters from St. Joseph, LaGrange and Elkhart counties were briefed Wednesday on the situation and the new barriers at toll road headquarters in Granger.
He said all of the barrels will be replaced by the end of September with flexible fiberglass poles with reflectors. Emergency responders will be instructed in how to drive over them.
The decision to place those poles was discussed at the Indiana Toll Road Oversight Board's Aug. 9 meeting, Pierce said. Three of board's seven members are top aides to Gov. Mitch Daniels.
The Aug. 9 meeting was only publicized by a notice posted on the door at toll road headquarters two days before. State officials have promised to better publicize future meetings.
© 2006 The Associated Press: