Much of Switzerland County — and the surrounding area — came to a stop last week when officials with the Indiana Department of Transportation closed State Road 156 east of Vevay just past Tapps Ridge Road to all traffic. The closure came as a result of the eastbound lane experiencing cracks and separation due to the recent heavy rains.
The initial news of the closing came last Tuesday afternoon, May 7th, when a section of the road approximately 30 yards long was closed near the home of Bud and Betty Hargrove. INDOT officials put up barriers on the highway at Tapps Ridge Road, directing motorists up over the hill to connect with Markland Pike, and then drive on Markland Pike back south to reconnect with State Road 156 just west of the Markland Dam and on the other side of the closure.
For Switzerland County drivers, the detour meant that drivers could opt to go down Adkinson Hill Road, which is at the top of Tapps Ridge and then connects with Markland Pike — saving about four miles of driving on the detour.
The problem? Adkinson Hill Road is not heavily traveled normally, and all of the additional traffic caused some areas of that road to erode, which then forced the Switzerland County Highway Department to completely close Adkinson Hill Road on Thursday afternoon.
“The county highway contacted me on Thursday of last week and notified me that they were closing it down, and as far as I know, it’s still closed,” Switzerland County Sheriff Brian Morton said. “I think they have a little slip situation too. I don’t think it’s a huge slip, but they were concerned with the massive amount of traffic that it was getting. One morning we actually had a semi who decided that he thought he could go down Adkinson Hill.”
Making matters worse, Sheriff Morton said that some drivers were moving the barricades on State Road 156 or driving around them and continuing to use the roadway. Once Adkinson Hill Road was closed, some drivers chose to move those barriers and drive the road anyway.
Writing tickets. Lots of tickets.
“INDOT officials called us and said that they heard we were having trouble with people moving the barricades, so they asked if we wanted them to put concrete barriers there that couldn’t be moved,” Sheriff Morton said. “I told them that would be great, and it would save us a lot of manpower and trouble.”
As the sheriff’s office was busy trying to keep people from using either of the closed roads, another issue had to be addressed — semi trucks coming over the Markland Dam from Kentucky; as well as semis trying to get to Kentucky. Much of the commercial traffic involved trucks loaded with heavy coils of steel from the steel plants, which made it even more difficult for drivers who were trying to find another way west and north after coming off of the dam.
Sheriff Morton said that he posted deputies at the Markland Dam in order to intercept semis that may not know about the road closure, or those who were going to try and use county roads to get around.
“We all just kind of took turns, sitting at different areas of the county,” the sheriff said. “We got so many complaints about semis running the back roads, that we tried to station all of us either at the end of 129, Markland Pike and 56, and up at the dam. We were trying to re-route semis so they didn’t get on our detour.”
Morton said that he asked INDOT to put a message sign at the intersection of Highways 421 and 129 at Versailles, notifying drivers that their safest route was to continue south on Highway 421 to Madison and then take the Madison-Milton Bridge into Kentucky.
“About 99-percent of the truck traffic runs north and south up through there,” Sheriff Morton said. “So they put a message board up there; but you’ve always got a few who try and slip through. We would catch them at the end of 129 and we would send them down highway 56 to Madison, because that was really the only other option they had.”
As for the trucks coming across the Markland Dam, Morton said he contacted all of the steel mills and they agreed to put the word out to all of the trucking companies that hauled for them.
“Then I contacted two trucking companies, I actually called their dispatch centers, because we would get them coming across the bridge and we would have to turn them around and send them right back over the bridge to Interstate 71. They’re all going to Chicago, South Bend, Fort Wayne — so we’d send them back to 71 and then they’d have to decide whether they wanted to go down to Louisville and hit 65 or if they wanted to go to Cincinnati and pick up 74.”
The sheriff also had deputies monitoring Markland Pike to try and slow down some of the speeders.
After a week and weekend that saw greatly increased traffic on the detour — most resulting from Switzerland County residents who work across the Ohio River in Kentucky trying to get to and from work; as well as out of town drivers looking to find an alternate route to Belterra Casino and Resort — INDOT got traffic lights installed and operating on Monday around noon. The lights have lightened the load on the detour roads, and traffic is returning somewhat to normal, including commercial traffic. Morton said that INDOT has not limited what traffic can and cannot go through the lights at this time.
“I think we did pretty good for the staff that we have,” the sheriff said of the situation. “We’ve got 10 road deputies who cover 24/7, 365, and then I had to open up overtime to try and keep a handle on this road issue. We’re were definitely pulling our hair out, but we did pretty good. All things considered, I think it went well.”