Construction has begun on the widening of Interstate 70 to three lanes between US 68 and Ohio 72 in Clark County. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Hundreds of crashes reported annually on I-70 in Clark County

More than 2,300 vehicle crashes have happened on Interstate 70 in Clark County since 2013, according to Ohio State Highway Patrol records.

Included in those numbers are two fatal accidents that occurred within hours of each other on Oct. 4.

The highway patrol has responded to at least one fatal crash on the stretch of interstate in the county each year since 2013 except last year.

REPORT: 2 killed in separate fiery crashes on I-70 West in Clark County

This year, however, three fatal accidents have been recorded by the state patrol. The causes of those crashes are still under investigation, Lt. Brian Aller with the Ohio State Highway Patrol Springfield post said.

The interstate is a major priority for his patrol, Aller said.

“It’s the main road that we patrol,” Aller said. “We are in a very high volume area between Dayton and Columbus and we have our own industry and city here.”

The Ohio Department of Transportation is working to expand a two-lane stretch to three lanes. The project will cost about $17.5 million and is being paid for by National Freight Federal funding.

The project is expected to be completed in the fall of 2021.

Part of the reason for the lane expansion is safety, spokeswoman Mandi Dillon said.

“This section of I-70 between US 68 and SR 72 was the final piece of the interstate between Dayton and Columbus that needed to be increased to three lanes in both directions to improve traffic flow,” she said.

The ongoing construction in the area is a good thing for the county, former Clark County Commissioner John Detrick said.

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“This is going to have a happy ending but we are going to have endured the construction,” he said. “But we are going to be a better place because of it.”

Construction

It’s been obvious for a long time that I-70 needed to be a three-lane highway through Clark County, Detrick said.

“It’s become more dangerous because of the increased traffic,” he said. “It’s always been somewhat of a problem. It was kind of the forgotten road and it needed attention.”

About 60,000 vehicles make their way through Clark County using I-70 a day, according to ODOT numbers. Those numbers continue to increase, Detrick said.

Detrick, who retired from office in 2017, said he felt the stretch of highway was put on the back burner for an upgrade and he met with both of Ohio’s U.S. senators and worked with statehouse representatives for years in an attempt to expand the highway.

However, he said it’s a good thing that construction has begun.

“I was very excited,” he said. “That happened at the end of my term. I have been twisting everyone’s arm but you are at the mercy of others.”

The construction is expected to take about three years to complete and while workers are on the clock, drivers need to slow down, Dillon said.

“Safety is our number one priority,” she said. “We make sure the motoring public is aware of the work in that area and we set our work zones up according to state and federal safety guidelines, which on this project includes the use of variable speed limit signs. This requires traffic to reduce their speed while workers are present but allow higher rates of speed during non-working hours.”

“The construction should not have an overall negative impact on safety, but as with any active work zone we ask drivers to stay alert and slow down,” she said.

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Cr ashes

So far in 2018, there have been at least 355 crashes on I-70 in Clark County, according to Ohio State Highway Patrol statistics.

Of the 355, at least 63 of them have involved injury and 291 had property damage. The statistics show the rate is on pace to match the 2017 totals where law enforcement responded to 421 crashes overall.

That’s down slightly from 2016 when law enforcement responded to 441 crashes including 107 with an injury.

Aller said the construction that started in August shouldn’t impact those numbers.

“I-70 is safe,” he said. “The two lanes are still in the same area that we had them previously It is a little bit more restrictive and the trucks need to be in the left lane. The pavement on the right side, they are running on the brim and the rumble sticks and that is not as strong as the right lane is.”

He said the lane expansion is a welcomed change.

“We want to make it all three lanes,” he said.

Aller said the patrol has investigated crashes in the area where the highway turns from three to two lanes. He said often times drivers aren’t paying attention and get stuck which can be dangerous to all motorist on the roadway.

OSP has responded to three fatal crashes on I-70 so far this year. The first took place on Sept. 21 when a pedestrian was struck and killed in South Vienna.

Aller said his office is still investigating the crash. The person who was hit was identified as 51-year-old Bradley S. Liebling of Columbus.

Liebling was found dead near the 66-mile marker in Clark County.

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The other two fatal crashes occurred within hours of each other Oct. 4 and were among two of three fiery crashes on the highway that day. Aller said the first crash, which was non-fatal, is believed to have taken place when the motorist wasn’t driving in the left lane. Due to construction, signs have been posted directing semi-trucks to move to the left.

“The first one that burned up, that was because he drove off the right side,” Aller said. “He struck a guardrail and it ripped his fuel tank.”

The crash prompted the second crash about five miles east of the original accident, Aller said.

Matthew Cornett, 37, of Wilmington, was pronounced dead at the scene when the semi-truck he was driving slammed into the back of another semi-truck.

Inattention is believed to have played a role in that crash. Aller said there was little to no evidence of braking.

The second person killed that day was 66-year-old Jimmy L. Carnegie of Englewood. Aller said that crash is also still being investigated, but it is believed Carnegie was stopped in the right lane of traffic when he was rear-ended by a semi.

Aller said the semi driver is not facing charges at this time.

“We’ve downloaded the information from the truck and we are checking the speed,” he said. “but if it was not speeding and had to slow down form 70 miles to zero there is no way to move out of the way.”

Traffic Enforcement

Aller said following the crashes that his post planned to increase enforcement and pull over trucks not driving in the left lane.

The post is doing that, he said.

MORE: I-70 shut down near U.S. 68 for a semi fire

“The biggest thing is having the trucks in the left lane,” he said. “The other part we are looking at when the construction is going on the speed limit is reduced and people need to be mindful of that. The construction zone signs, they will flash when the construction is active and working. When those lights are flashing the fines are double.”

Aller said plans already were in the works for more patrols even before the series of fiery crashes on the highway earlier this month.

“I’ve stopped four trucks this week for driving in the left lane,” Aller said. “One of the truck drivers had seen the sign. It’s a matter of changing people’s behavior and telling them why we are doing that. It’s not just our program, ODOT, and the construction company is involved in this.”

Jenna Lawson contributed to this article.

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