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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Simple solution: stay the heck off I-70

Friday, August 26, 2011

One of my favorite all-time newspaper-related movie dramas is the fairly obscure 1959 film "-30-" starring Jack Webb and a relatively skinny, pre-"Cannon" William Conrad.

It is just so overly dramatic, and like all TV and film portrayals of the newspaper business, a little off-base in depicting the power of the press.

One of the stories within the story is that of a missing child who is believed to have been washed into a storm drain during a violent thunderstorm and the ensuing flooding.

The newspaper, of course, takes this up as a cause. Webb, best known as TV's Joe Friday of "Dragnet" fame, orders a photo of the catch basin and gutter and wants it spilled across adjacent pages on the inside spread of the newspaper. In journalism jargon, incidentally, that meant it was a photo of a gutter across the gutter (a newspaper gutter is that blank area in the middle where the pages meet). A nice little inside joke.

I'll never forget Webb barking out his newsroom instructions, including the insertion of a banner headline which he punctuates verbally in staccato fashion as: "Kids, stay out of these!"

All that comes back to me here today because of the simple logic involved.

Applying that Jack Webb logic to west-central Indiana in 2011, I want a new panoramic photo of Interstate 70, and I want it splashed clear across the Banner Graphic gutter with the headline: "Drivers, stay off of the interstate!"

Ladies and gentlemen, if you haven't already seen or heard, Interstate 70 in west-central Indiana is a mess. Work zones for three separate (but nonetheless linked) projects stretch from two miles east of Plainfield to the Indiana-Illinois border.

Take our advice, and avoid it at all costs. Avoid it like the plague. Just stay the heck off it and you'll be glad you did.

INDOT began long overdue work on the road surface on Aug. 15. The Banner Graphic and other area media carried at least two news stories before the project began.

A series of four area meetings were conducted in an effort to educate and warn the public. One of those was at South Putnam High School on Aug. 16. We were all duly warned, yes, but I doubt the biggest pessimists among us saw this coming.

The interstate, no question, is now truly a nightmare. And it's compounded daily by thousands of cars and semis using I-70 to bisect Indiana morning, noon and night. It's not just a congestion issue, it's a safety concern most of all.

On just the third day of the project, a horrific semi accident brought on by stopped traffic and narrowed lanes, resulted in the death of an Ohio trucker.

Daily in the newsroom we hear Indiana State Police and others responding to accidents of varying degrees all along the route. Routine breakdowns (flat tires, etc.) in the construction zone are literally accidents waiting to happen. And hardly an hour goes by that someone is not reporting the barrels or cones used to delineate lanes being knocked over and into the driving area.

Safety issues have become so scary that the Vigo County School Corporation this week banned travel on I-70 by its buses while this project is ongoing.

Similar unofficial moves by other schools have helped intensify traffic on U.S. 40 through Putnam and Clay counties, creating what one Clay County school administrator called "a mini I-70" through Brazil. Of course, anytime traffic is impeded on I-70 in our area, it is automatically diverted east or west or sometimes both ways along U.S. 40.

It is expected to be next May before there is clear sailing again on I-70 ... if you can believe any road construction deadlines these days.

Personally, I plan to play it safe and stay off I-70 until at least next Thanksgiving.

Last weekend, those coming home from the Greencastle football game at Monrovia said as they drove over I-70 on State Road 39, all you could see was traffic backed up for miles. And that was at 10:30 p.m.

The next afternoon, we had family coming up from southern Indiana, and they decided to take I-70 to the Cloverdale exit instead of getting off in Plainfield or at State Road 39 and coming across on U.S. 40. That decision cost them an extra hour getting to our house.

Granted all that is merely an inconvenience. It is safety we are most worried about.

So drive slowly. Drive safely. Drive defensively.

And for goodness sake and your own sake, take it from Jack Webb: Kids, stay off the interstate!