The deaths of five women in crashes in a construction zone — and the “hundreds” of phone calls and emails following those crashes on Interstate 55 — have prompted a state lawmaker to call for answers.
State Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill, said Wednesday he has sent a letter to the Illinois Department of Transportation, seeking answers.
“Clearly, there is a problem that needs to be addressed,” Manar said.
“I don’t know if drivers need more warnings to slow down and pay attention, if more police patrols are required, or if some other measure is needed to ensure this stretch of I-55 is safe,” Manar said.
“I think it’s fairly routine (for a construction zone) and for whatever reason, there’s an inordinate number of accidents and fatal accidents,” Manar said.
Illinois State Police already started more patrols in the area near Illinois 143. On Wednesday morning, two Illinois troopers were traveling in the southbound construction lanes; another was stopped in northbound lanes near construction workers. State police also added a photo enforcement van this week to northbound lanes.
Manar was quick to express confidence in both IDOT and ISP in construction zone safety, saying Illinois has some of the safest road construction work zones in the country.
But his constituents who travel on that highway, or have loved ones who do, are “rightfully concerned.”
“I got a call from a woman in Staunton, and her husband drives that (to get to work). And the fear and concern in her voice, with literally hundreds of other calls and emails, prompted me to call upon IDOT,” Manar said.
Both of the fatal crashes, which involved multiple vehicles, remained under investigation Wednesday.
The Belleville News-Democrat and Manar have requested crash data of the construction zone; it is not readily available.
ISP spokesman Calvin Dye Jr. said earlier that distraction and speeding are almost always “the main contributing factor.”
An Illinois Department of Transportation project manager said Tuesday that he was limited in what he could say because of the ongoing police investigations.
The construction zone is in place in order for crews to replace bridge decking in both northbound and southbound lanes, said project manager Tim Krumm. He said the deck was original to the bridges, built in 1955, although there has been maintenance since.
The Illinois Department of Transportation closed one lane of I-55 in both directions for construction in that stretch between the Edwardsville and Hamel exits in late October.
Hamel Mayor Larry Bloemker has said accidents started to happen in the construction zone almost immediately. He said minor accidents happen every day, and that there have been at least six major accidents.