Monday, December 3, 2018

Are Accidents Increasing on the Combs-Hehl Bridge?


While work may slow in winter months, construction on Combs-Hehl Bridge continues through 2020.
  
By Robin Gee

As the cold and snow approaches, the "orange barrel" season for highway construction is slowing down, but caution on the roadways is as important as ever – and not just because of icy conditions.

Distracted driving, which includes texting, talking on the phone, eating and other activities, accounts for more than 330,000 crashes and more than 3,400 traffic-related fatalities in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because construction zones include frequent changes in traffic flow and conditions, driver distraction can be a big problem for drivers and for workers in these zones.

Although no one was cited in a crash that happened in October on the Combs-Hehl Bridge or in a fatal accident there in 2016, the number of crashes in and around the bridge has risen. Both law enforcement and traffic safety experts say distracted driving in an active work zone may have played a role in the rash of incidents that happened over the summer and early fall.

RELATED: Scary Accident on Combs-Hehl Bridge Reminiscent of 2016 Fatal Crash

Data shows an increase in traffic incidents

Published data for 2018 is only available through August, but compared with data on averages over the previous three years, the number of accidents near the bridge increased in five out of eight months and exceeded the highest number of accidents recorded in all years in half of those months.

For example, in March the average number of accidents from 2015 to 2017 was 9.3 and the highest number recorded in all the years was 12. In 2018, it was 18, and in July, the most active month, the the number was 42 for 2018, an increase of 17 over the highest figure recorded.

This is does not mean all the accidents were caused by distraction, and typically there are more incidents in the summer months as traffic increases for concerts at Riverbend and other events. Still, the increase reflects the steady climb in traffic incidents across the region and the country.

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"In the last five years or so, we have seen increases in distracted and drugged driving," said Brian Cunningham, a spokesperson for Ohio Department of Transportation District Eight. "This is why we warn that you should not text and drive."


Proceed with caution, experts say, as weather conditions add to changes in traffic flow and other concerns.

Through a reciprocal agreement between Ohio and Kentucky, the ODOT is the lead for the Combs-Hehl Bridge work.

Awareness is key

Cunningham says that one thing that should keep drivers on their toes and paying close attention is the changes in traffic flow that happen regularly as a construction project progresses.

To avoid shutting down traffic altogether, engineers create contraflow lanes in which lanes that normally flow one way are changed or switched to open up room for repairs. Traffic travels on temporary pavement or the shoulder of the road against the flow of the surrounding lanes, usually marked by temporary concrete barriers.

The Combs-Hehl project is "an active construction zone with different things happening every day…in November we shift eastbound lanes, and in the spring we will flip the entire flow for westbound lanes," he said.

A look at the ODOT Combs-Hehl Bridge/Interstate 275 project website shows that after November 17, traffic entering Ohio from Kentucky was shifted to the left or inside lanes starting about a half mile before the bridge and continuing until Four Mile Road.

The $31 million construction project includes resurfacing on I-275 from Four-Mile Road in Ohio to the Kentucky side of the Ohio River and rehabilitation of four twin bridges including Four-Mile Road., Sutton Road, Kellogg Avenue and Combs-Hehl.


Preliminary work on the project began May 14 of this year and is expected to be completed by the end of August 2020. To see live information captured by a camera near the bridge or for real-time traffic information, click on the project in the map provided at OHGO.com. And for some sobering statistics on distracted driving aimed at teen drivers, check out the TeenSafe website.

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