Are construction zones leading to crashes on I-10 near U.S. 301?

Officials say no, but encourage drivers to be extra cautious

BALDWIN, Fla. – Currently, there are more than $1 billion worth of active construction projects underway in the Jacksonville area.

So, are the construction zones causing, or contributing to, car crashes -- especially off Interstate 10 near U.S. 301 in Baldwin, where a string of deadly wrecks have taken place in the past few months?

"I think it comes down to the (individual’s) responsibility," said Ron Tittle, with the Florida Department of Transportation. "If I'm driving through a construction zone, I'm going to take extra precaution as a driver so these signs, when I see these orange signs, it reminds me that I need to be extra careful."

So in a word, no. Officials said there is no correlation between these recent crashes and the construction zones. But with construction comes traffic-pattern changes, and drivers need to pay more attention.

"I call it good situational awareness," Tittle said.

In November, three separate crashes took place on the same day on I-10 near U.S. 301, including one that killed 44-year-old Harold Payne and, 15 minutes later, another that killed 36-year-old Callie Crump, who worked at the Jax Chamber.

In December, another deadly wreck took place. Autumn Branham was 16. Police said her car crossed the median. Last weekend, a man was injured in a fiery crash in the same spot. 

Although multiple factors played into each accident, Tittle said, in general, distractions and not obeying the speed limit are often major causes of wrecks.

The Department of Transportation is working on several new projects on I-10 to lessen congestion for drivers, Tittle said.

"We're trying to change or add some lanes going eastbound right off of 301. That's going to help a lot with the truckers," Tittle said. "We're also doing the Baldwin bypass area for helping with the traffic -- particularly, when you're backed up with the trains in the traffic there."

Tittle said the department takes data from the Florida Highway Patrol and works with the Federal Highway Administration to examine how officials can make the roads safer.