U.S. Highway 50 reopened Monday afternoon, but Lebanon police say the Illinois Department of Transportation waited to determine whether the road could reopen because it didn’t approve overtime pay for the road to be inspected over the weekend.
IDOT crews worked to repair the highway Monday after a weekend Lebanon Police Department Chief David Roth called “absolutely ridiculous.” The department’s four weekend officers “spent a ton of time out there on 50,” ticketing drivers who bypassed barricades blocking the road, Roth said.
The road was closed last week after days of heavy rain that caused flooding. Weekend motorists were perplexed to find the road was still closed, even though the waters had receded and the roadway was dry, the Lebanon Police Department said on its Facebook page.
Although the road was dry, inspectors eventually discovered it needed pavement and shoulder repairs, an IDOT spokeswoman said Monday. Nine inches of rain drenched the region over only nine days, causing flooding over dozens of roads, including U.S. 50.
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“Even though the water had receded this weekend, IDOT still needed time to fully assess what would need to be done to safely reopen the roadway,” spokeswoman Kelsea Gurski said. “We would not consider a flooded roadway safe to reopen until all of the debris is removed and the entire roadway has been visually inspected and drove upon.”
Motorists moved barricades, drove around them and even drove through them, the Lebanon chief said. One barricade was destroyed when a motorist drove through it Sunday night.
“We made a tremendous amount of traffic stops for people violating the barricade,” Roth said. “I understand the frustration with construction on (Interstate) 64, but the barricades are put up for a reason.”
Construction along the interstate that runs parallel with U.S. 50 caused further traffic complications, said Chuck Delorme, a Lebanon resident who needed to travel on U.S. 50 several times over the weekend.
Traffic was backed up along the interstate for miles Saturday as crews diverted motorists around construction of a new overpass at Rieder Road. Some drivers tried to avoid the jam by taking Illinois 4 north to U.S. 50, Delorme said. Others tried to avoid traffic on U.S. 50 by taking Illinois 4 to Interstate 64.
“There was no signage (on I-64) to tell you 50 is closed,” Delorme said. “You get off 64, go up to 50, and all of a sudden you see it’s closed. The number of people having to do that is unbelievable.”
Delorme ended up taking his weekend shopping to Belleville rather than O’Fallon in order to avoid having to take U.S. 50, he said. He tried Thursday and Friday to take U.S. 50, but was turned around each time. On Saturday, he said, he was sure it would be open. It wasn’t.
“It’s just another inconvenience caused by a bureaucratic decision that probably shouldn’t have been made the way it was,” Delorme said.
Even though the road was dry, the police chief said the road could still be dangerous.
“Even though there isn’t water on the road, damage could have been done underneath the roadway,” Roth said. “There’s the potential of the road giving out and causing a collapse. It could be catastrophe if the road gives out.”
Motorists who ignore barricades are not only putting themselves in harm’s way, Roth added, but they’re also putting first responders in harm’s way.