On this there seems to be agreement, that no resident of Oaktown likes the changes (or “improvements”) the Indiana Department of Transportation is making to the section of U.S. 41 that runs along the town's east side.
As town council president Randy Rinsch said, some are resigned to the fact that the so-called J-turns are being installed, that they'll just have to live with them.
Others, including one of the residents we spoke with at Wednesday afternoon's INDOT meeting at the community building, are mad as hell at what's been “crammed down our throats” by the state, although what they can do about it now we don't know.
In one form or another, U.S. 41 has existed in Indiana since 1926, running from the Ohio River north to Lake Michigan. Portions of the original route can still be traveled, from just north of Vincennes up through Emison and on to Oaktown and beyond to the county line.
For years, the highway was known as “Killer 41” because of the number of fatal accidents that occurred on it.
Oaktown residents say that sobriquet still resonates; nine people have been killed in accidents along the Oaktown stretch since 2003, and upwards of 100 accidents in total have occurred during that time.
According to INDOT, the cause of most of the accidents can be traced back to “driver inattention,” the Earthbound equivalent to “pilot error” for plane crashes.
The J-turns are a recent engineering design intended alleviate some of the dangers to motorists trying to cross the highway's four lanes coming from and going into Oaktown.
For local motorists, the confusion of having to first go north before turning to go south (and vice versa) looks to be an invitation for more, not less, accidents in the area.
The first use of J-turns in Indiana was in Spencer County near the town of Dale in 2016, at a similarly-dangerous intersection, where among the fatalities was Susan (Land) Grundhoefer, an Edwardsport native who had recently retired as the principal of Heritage Hills Middle School, killed on Dec. 28, 2014.
J-turns may not be the best solution to the problem at Oaktown; the “best” solution, which would involve rebuilding (straightening out and leveling) that section of the highway, would just be too costly, INDOT officials say.
And probably draw even more of the locals' ire.
Besides, as INDOT officials admit, no solution designed and built by man could completely prevent accidents caused by driver carelessness.