Construction zones are not causing bad crashes — sloppy and distracted driving is.
Illinois State Police Trooper Calvin Dye Jr. wants to make that clear.
Twice in the past month, along the same stretch of Interstate 55, a semi has crashed into multiple cars at a stand-still in a construction zone. Both crashes sent multiple people to the hospital with serious injuries, and the first crash, which occurred Nov. 21 near Hamel, killed four women.
“I’ve been hearing people blaming that stretch of roadway on I-55 for crashes, saying it’s because of the construction zone,” Dye said. “My whole department thinks that’s absurd. ... These drivers need to be held more responsible or accountable.”
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There are plenty of markings and warning signs, Dye said, alerting drivers to the upcoming construction zone and impressing on them the need to slow down.
“The construction zone has nothing to do with a driver speeding and nothing to do with a driver being distracted,” Dye said. “How does a construction zone cause a driver to take their eyes off the road?”
In the latest big crash on I-55, a semi driver looked down to pick up his tea Friday as he approached the construction zone near exit 23, where Illinois 143 intersects with the highway. The driver rear-ended one car, causing a chain-reaction involving 10 vehicles, including the semi. 10 people were injured and taken to the hospital, three of whom had serious, life-threatening injuries.
As of Saturday afternoon, all 10 injured are still alive. Several of the injured people were treated and released from the hospital, Dye said. The driver of the semi, a 53-year-old Lewistown man, was among the injured.
Friday’s crash was close to the site of a Nov. 21 crash in which a semi driver slammed into seven cars. The driver, Mohamed Yussuf Jama, 53, of Greeley, Colorado, made “no attempt to stop,” Dye said after the crash. Four young women were killed, and 12 people were injured in the crash. That investigation is still ongoing.
Hamel Mayor Larry Bloemker said Friday that as soon as the construction on I-55 began, the crashes started to happen. The Illinois Department of Transportation closed one lane on each side of I-55 along the stretch between Edwardsville and Hamel in late October. Construction isn’t set to wrap up until September 2018.
He said he has contacted IDOT to express his concerns.
Bloemker pointed out a “near miss” with an extended passenger van carrying an Air Force band, as well as minor crashes happening every day. By his count, at least six major crashes have occurred in that area. The exact number of incidents since the construction zone went into effect was not immediately available.
Signs warning of the construction start three miles before the lane restriction, and a radar speed sign flashes vehicle speeds as they cross into the construction zone.
But people just ignore those signs, Dye said, and when traffic slows down, they don’t have enough time to brake and stop on time, leading to a crash. For that reason, the most common type of crash in construction zones statewide is rear-ending, Dye said.
“It’s got nothing to do with construction zones,” Dye said. “It has everything to do with bad driving behaviors.”