Interstate 39/90 construction zone crashes mount as road work continues, DOT says

June 18, 2018 GMT

As long-term work to overhaul a stretch of Interstate 39/90 continues, traffic crashes have mounted.

In April and May, there were 112 work zone crashes within a 42-mile stretch of I-39/90, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. During the same two months last year, there were 58 crashes in a 22-mile work zone.

While no motorists have died in crashes since the massive rebuild of the freeway between Madison and the Illinois border started in 2015, recent crashes have sent motorists to the hospital or caused delays for travelers.

Rear-end collisions have been the most common crashes, said Wisconsin DOT spokesman Steve Theisen. Distracted drivers — whether using their phones or eating — and those following too close to other vehicles have been the primary culprits, he said.

“Many of the recent incidents ... have been a result of inattentive driving and vehicles following too close,” Theisen said. “Distracted driving has also become increasingly prevalent on Wisconsin roadways.”

This month, the state lowered the work zone speed limit from 70 to 55 mph.

The announcement followed crashes that included a seven-vehicle crash near McFarland that sent six people to area hospitals and another incident that sent seven people to area hospitals after a semi-truck collided with the back of a passenger van a few miles south of the Beltline interchange.

Before 2016, fewer miles of the stretch of I-39/90 were under construction. But now that more of the interstate is in an active work zone, it requires motorists to be extra vigilant, Theisen said.

The work zone includes concrete barriers separating northbound and southbound traffic, narrower shoulders and concrete barriers to protect workers.

Theisen said motorists should put their phones down, plan for unexpected slowdowns and give other vehicles plenty of room.

“It’s a substantial work zone,” he said. “(Motorists) need to be aware for the entire 42 miles.”

Work on the $1.2 billion I-39/90 project to rebuild and expand the freeway from Madison to the Illinois state line started in 2015.

The project will include the addition of a third lane of traffic in each direction.

Theisen said it’s difficult to compare the I-39/90 stretch to other projects in the state because every work zone is unique.

Up to 60,000 a day

He said 50,000 to 60,000 vehicles travel the interstate between Madison and Beloit daily and that other construction zones could have different traffic levels, types of traffic and barrier configurations.

Although Theisen said the state has worked to make the construction zone safe, motorists also play an important role in helping to prevent crashes.

“The Wisconsin DOT is doing their part to improve this major gateway,” he said. “We’re asking drivers to do their part.”

Those caught breaking laws in construction zones face doubled fines.

Talking on a handheld phone is also illegal. Violators could be fined up to $40 for a first offense and $100 for any additional ones.

The project is expected to be completed in 2020.