OATOWN — A highly-anticipated — and highly-dreaded by many — project along U.S. 41 is set to get under way on Monday, according to signs placed there by officials with the Indiana Department of Transportation.
Town officials are encouraging motorists to be ready — or cautious.
“We just want everybody to be aware that this is happening and that there will be some delays, some closures all while this change is being made,” said Randy Rinsch, president of the Oaktown Town Council. “This is going to happen whether anybody likes it or not.”
Rinsch said council members met this week to discuss, once again, INDOT’s plans to do what the state agency believes will make safer an intersection that has played a role in several deadly accidents over the years.
But it’s a project many locals are not looking forward to as they worry it could potentially make the intersection even more dangerous.
And given that recents rains have delayed planting season significantly, road construction is now coming at a difficult time for farmers, too.
“I know INDOT pushed the project back hoping it wouldn’t interfere with (planting season), but with the weather slowing farmers down the way it has, I’m afraid it’s going to put everybody in the mix together,” Rinsch said. “There will certainly be some inconvenience for awhile.”
Oaktown residents had for years hoped INDOT would take notice of the the intersections along U.S. 41 at Freelandville Road and Old U.S. 41 — or Maple Street to locals.
But when INDOT proposed a solution, a J-turn, a year ago, it wasn’t the result most locals had hoped for.
INDOT's proposal essentially eliminates movement across all four lanes of U.S. 41, instead creating two median U-turn intersections, a design most commonly called a J-turn intersection.
So anyone coming from Freelandville and wanting to cross into Oaktown will need to first turn right into the northbound lanes of U.S. 41, travel a short distance, then make a U-turn to head back south.
They will then make a right-hand turn onto Maple Street.
Motorists coming from the other direction will be asked the same, doing everything in reverse.
With the intersection the way it is now, there are more than 40 possible points of contact between motorists traveling in multiple directions, INDOT officials pointed out during a public meeting last year.
Changing it to the median J-turn design, INDOT said, will reduce that down to 20, thereby reducing the opportunity for conflict and the number of severe right-angle crashes that often result in death.
But Rinsch said time hasn’t helped unhappy Oaktown residents to better accept INDOT’s plan. And local business owners and farmers that rely on that stretch of U.S. 41 — whether to travel or to attract passers-by — are dreading these next few months.
“I know Casey’s there, they’re really concerned about this,” he said. “They’re right there.
“We hear a lot of complaints here,” Rinsch said of the town council. “But the state’s engineers feel this is the best way to correct the problem.”
Other options have been looked at over the years, like additional signage, warning lights, more overhead lighting and even better police enforcement.
But nothing, INDOT has argued, is as good as eliminating the possibility of crossing all four lanes of traffic altogether.
In the years between 2003 and 2015, INDOT officials say there were 86 accidents there. More than 90 percent of those were due to motorists failing to yield the right of way.
There have been nine fatalities since 2003
In other business, Rinsch said town council members are on the hunt for a leak into the city’s sanitary sewer system.
Storm water is getting in, he said, yet they can’t figure out where or how.
“We’ve got a lot of storm water in our sewage system,” he said, “so we’ve got to see if we can find the source.”
The city pays to have its sewage treated in Carlisle, Rinsch said, and the charge has gone up by $1,000 in recent months.
“And it only happens during a hard rain, which is why we’re thinking it’s tied to a down spout or a sump pump at someone’s house,” he said.
If you have any information about where the leak could be, contact Town Hall at 812-745-3360.