EDITORIAL: Road construction carries high costs

July 14, 2012

Hamilton County motorists may be forgiven the occasional bout of road rage this summer.

As IBJ’s Chris O’Malley reports on page 1A, construction along Carmel’s U.S. 31 corridor has snarled traffic badly enough that many drivers are simply avoiding it—taking a toll on businesses already struggling to survive.

And orange cones are so prevalent in Fishers that the town’s so-called “Drive Fishers” initiative seems more like a bad joke than a good idea. It certainly is proving the old saw “it gets worse before it gets better” to be true.

We just hope it gets better.

Interstate 69 is being widened to ease epic congestion at 116th Street and State Road 37, adding to the problem in the meantime. And northbound motorists opting for the other major route into town, Allisonville Road, are being rerouted at 86th Street while crews replace the bridge over Interstate 465. Then there’s “Drive Fishers,” the ironically named series of ill-timed, if necessary, road improvements.

Its signature project is a $9 million overhaul of the heavily traveled intersection at Allisonville and 96th Street, which O’Malley writes about on page 13A this week. Traffic engineers say the controversial new design—dubbed the “Fishers U-Turn”—will reduce the time spent waiting at stoplights by eliminating left turns. Instead, drivers who want to make a left will first turn right, then turn around. Traffic signals will be installed at each point to ensure order.

Read the story, if you haven’t already. We’ll wait. Done already? OK, now please help us understand why this is a good idea. Don’t worry, we’re stumped, too.

The design—also called a “Michigan left” in homage to its origins—is a recipe for disaster, particularly at an intersection that handles 65,000 vehicles each day.

As O’Malley points out, drivers could sit at as many as three lights under the new design, versus one now. Engineers hope to time the lights to keep motorists moving, but anyone who’s been behind the wheel lately knows better than to count on green meaning go.

We’ll give planners (and Michiganders) the benefit of the doubt and assume the changes actually deliver the promised results. Officials in Plano, Texas, for example, said that city’s first such intersection reduced overall traffic backups 60 percent. But two years after it was installed, some residents still are asking for a traditional stoplight instead.

We’re with them. Motorists deal with too many distractions as it is. Cell phones, MP3 players, navigation systems and even DVD players increasingly compete for drivers’ attention—and often win, if the ones we’re stuck behind in traffic are any indication.

Fishers leaders considered building a massive roundabout there but parked that idea due to cost and space restraints. The current plan could still prove costly if motorists don’t navigate the learning curve well—or worse yet, avoid the area altogether. No one can afford that.•


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