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No plans to add lanes where recent I-70 truck rollovers have occurred

Three semitrailer rollover crashes in the past 15 days on Interstate 70 between the Preble County line and Interstate 75 has state safety officials concerned because of the long backups created, but they said there are no future plans to expand the busy two-lane highway.

The latest of the crashes occurred around 7:45 a.m. Thursday after the driver of a semi carrying milk attempted to avoid a broken-down vehicle that was causing slow traffic on eastbound I-70 near Ohio 49. Just 12 hours earlier, a semitrailer carrying melons overturned on westbound I-70 near the Preble County line by Brookville.

On July 25, another semi overturned when a driver carrying 46,000 pounds of nails turned to follow the on-ramp connecting eastbound I-70 to northbound I-75. The semitrailer was improperly loaded causing the trailer to tip as the vehicle followed the curve, said Sgt. Chris Colbert of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

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Officials at the Ohio State Highway Patrol and Ohio Department of Transportation said they are concerned about the rollovers that cause lane and full highway closures for hours as clean up takes place.

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The I-70/75 interchange is sometimes called the “crossroads of America.” From here, drivers can reach 60 percent of the nation’s consumers in a day, regional advocates say. Within 90 minutes of the area are five international airports — Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Louisville and Indianapolis — responsible for more than 15 percent of all air cargo in North America, the Dayton Development Coalition says.

The closures create major backups on I-70 — which has long stretches of only two lanes — and can make driving conditions dangerous for other motorists, said Lt. Mark Nichols at the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

Semitrailer drivers may face issues focusing with long hours on the road as adults can only truly focus for 15 minutes before the brain needs a break, Colbert said.

“That doesn’t mean that you’re not paying attention, but that does mean that you’re not truly focused hard on things,” he said. “People’s attention span is an issue when you start talking about traffic patterns and people driving.”

But the focus also becomes an issue for other drivers stuck in backed-up traffic as a result of accidents, Nichols said.

Every minute a lane is closed because of a crash, the chance of a secondary accident increases by 2.8 percent, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

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“We are all constantly concerned about the backup,” Nichols said. “If you’re the first, second, third car in the backup, well you’re just going to unfortunately have to sit there. But it’s the cars that are coming into the backup, which is where we see problems at.”

Backups can be so dangerous that the Ohio Department of Transportation started offering incentives to tow companies to clear accidents on busy highways more quickly, said spokesman Matt Bruning.

“We obviously want everybody to be safe, that’s the number one thing. But at the same time, if we can get lanes open as quickly as we can so we can get traffic moving again, we reduce the risk of a secondary crash, that in some cases can be more serious than the first crash,” he said.

While some parts of I-70, including near Springfield, are expanding to three lanes, Bruning said expansion isn’t planned for the stretch of the two most recent rollovers. I-70 near Brookville only sees about 35,000 to 40,000 cars a day, compared to 75,000 closer to Dayton and 62,000 near Springfield.

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“ODOT is not building a lot of extra capacity; 95 percent of what we did this year was preservation of the existing roadways, and that’s just because we’re trying to find smarter ways to more efficiently operate our transportation network as opposed to just building lanes,” Bruning said.

Additionally, semitrailers are more likely to flip than others because of their height and weight. The improper load that caused the semi to flip on July 25 is just one of four major factors that lead to overturns.

“If the trailer goes, it’s going to pull the whole truck with it because obviously the trailer is significantly heavier than the tractor,” Colbert said.

For a semi to flip, there must also be enough speed, which is almost always a factor on interstates like I-70. Speed alone won’t cause an overturn, but adding improper load, suddenly changing direction or changing surface by going off road is the perfect storm for a rollover.

“Usually rollover crashes are kind of a combination of issues, and it’s been the same combination of issues for the last 29 years,” said Colbert, who’s worked at the Ohio State Highway Patrol for 29 years.

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