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Increased traffic, construction lead to more accidents on I-39

Published: Thursday, July 3, 2014 4:11 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, July 3, 2014 4:13 p.m. CDT

Take increased traffic, add construction zones with a dash of distracted drivers and you have a recipe for accidents.

A construction zone that began in June on I-39 between Ill. 64 and Ill. 72 has apparently contributed to accidents on this stretch of interstate.

"There are a couple of attributes on I-39 in the area," said Sergeant Mike Kuehl, Illinois State Police (ISP) District 1. "There have been increased accidents over the past two years. Some of this increase has occurred with a lot of commercial vehicles on the roadway. The construction has increased the visibility of the accidents."

The ISP has been increasing patrols on I-39 to try and reduce the accidents on the road.

"We had a detail out there Monday and Tuesday (June 23-24) targeting commercial vehicles so they comply with all safety rules," he said. "Increasing our visibility on the road is one way to address the increased traffic."

The interstate is the busiest road in Ogle County and sees 32,000 vehicles per day, according to statistics from the Illinois Department of Transportation.  Of this total, 12,500 are commercial trucks.

Compare that with the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) on the southern edge of the county that only sees 16,300 vehicles per day.

Blackhawk Drive (Ill. 2) in Byron has 13,000 vehicles per day and Fourth Street (Ill. 2) in Oregon has 9,700 vehicles per day.

"Interstate 39 is congested. Traffic has increased on the road," said Kuehl. "There has been a tremendous amount of commercial traffic on the roadway and IDOT has helped with funding to increase patrols on the road. We are trying to educate the public to comply with all traffic laws."

Some of the increases could be related to construction on other Chicago interstates and motorists avoiding Chicago when traveling.

Add construction to the mix and the road has been dangerous at times.

Accidents over a two week span in one 8 mile stretch of the interstate include: one on June 13; two on June 16 including a fatal; one on June 17; one on June 18; one on June 20; one on June 24; and one on June 26.

The cause of these wrecks was cited as traffic related to the construction zone, based on police reports.

The ISP has also ticketed five motorists in the area during the same two weeks.

"We need to educate the public to pay attention and slow down," said Kuehl.

The fatal accident on June 16 was caused by a commercial vehicle that did not slow down for traffic near the construction zone.

"Be aware of construction zones. The I-39 zone is still going on," said Kuehl. "Be aware that traffic can be backed up several miles leading into a construction zone. People need to pay attention. The sign may say construction in three miles, but the traffic slows down a mile down the road."

Local people have the option to take alternate routes to save time and reduce the amount of traffic in the construction zone, Kuehl said.

The ISP is out looking for distracted drivers this summer to help keep motorists safe.

Using cell phones is often cited as the big distraction for drivers but there are others.

"Distractions for drivers are not only cell phones," said Kuehl. "Dealing with kids in the back seat or reaching down and picking something up off the floor are also distractions."

Kuehl would like motorists to remember basic rules of driving.

"Wear seat belts, drive defensively, be aware of what is around you, pay attention, and do not be distracted," he said. "We have seen a lot on the roads this summer and it is unfortunate when a driver does not pay attention to their surroundings."

Kuehl said slowing down will ensure motorists make it to their destinations safe this summer.

Construction is occurring on numerous roads in the state and drivers need to pay attention to stay safe on the roads, he said.

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