Commuters cope with downtown Indy highway project

Officials say they didn't see problems any worse than anticipated Tuesday morning when commuters for the first time dealt with the closure of a key section of interstates 65 and 70 that feed downtown Indianapolis, but the afternoon rush hour could be another story.

The Indiana Department of Transportation and Indianapolis media outlets have spent weeks warning motorists that their way to and from work will be complicated by work to lower pavement along the heavily traveled route to keep trucks from ripping their roofs and cargo under bridges that are posted for use by lower trucks. Most motorists were braced for changes with alternate routes planned, Indiana State Police spokesman Sgt. Richard Myers said.

"I think everybody got the word out and everybody did what they did and everything went smoothly," he said.

Indianapolis police spokeswoman Sgt. Linda Jackson said she drives to work from the south side where she lives every morning, and simply bypassed the closed exit ramp where she normally gets off and went on to the next one.

But traffic wasn't flowing so smoothly in outlying areas as the day wore on, and highway officials said backups could be worse for the afternoon rush hour.

Will Wingfield, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation, said highway officials were tracking the new traffic flow patterns caused by commuters' adjustments and had crews and police working traffic signals to try to make things run smoothly.

"There's a lot of traffic unloading onto city streets," from exits they don't ordinarily use, he said.

But conditions worsened as the morning rush intensified, Wingfield said.

"By 8 a.m., we were definitely seeing more traffic backups," he said.

The worst of the Tuesday morning backups were not downtown, but on the south side were I-465 merges with 65 and a major city street named Emerson Ave., where motorists have to quickly cross three lanes of traffic to get off at the next exit.

"That's a normal hot spot for us," Wingfield said, but "it could be complicated even further" when commuters rush to get home later Tuesday.

Westbound drivers also seemed to be overlooking a ramp where they can get off onto three major city streets, he said.

Officials say the highway work is needed because bridges in that section have been hit repeatedly by oversized semitrailer loads. The $12 million project scheduled for completion by the end of October.

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