Driving on Interstate 94 through Racine County these days is, to put it bluntly, nerve-wracking.
Three lanes of vehicles, packed as tight as possible without scraping paint off each other, all traveling at least 70 mph and — we’ve all seen it happening — 80 mph, and faster.
One of those lanes is in what would normally be the shoulder, so there is no margin for error.
In long stretches of the journey through the county, the only things separating northbound traffic from southbound traffic are temporary construction medians, and those can be pushed by southbound traffic into the path of northbound traffic and vice versa.
We learned that with tragic consequences on June 19. On that day, two semitrailer drivers were killed in a five-vehicle crash which resulted when a southbound semi crashed into a temporary construction median, pushing the structure into the northbound lanes and the path of northbound cars that hit the median. A northbound semi then veered off the roadway in an attempt to avoid the wreckage and went over an overpass wall. Both semitrailers caught fire.
Thankfully, no one died when two semitrailers collided on Friday morning just north of the Racine-Milwaukee county line. The disruption there was merely one of inconvenience.
But because Friday’s accident involved hazardous materials, the inconvenience was massive and widespread: Highway 20 rarely comes up on WBBM-AM’s traffic reports – that Chicago radio station’s interest in Wisconsin highways generally ends near Kenosha – but when the complete closure of northbound I-94 led to a traffic backup of 15 miles in length, Windy City listeners heard mention of Highway 20 along with reports of commute times on the Dan Ryan Expressway.
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Caledonia police officers ended up directing traffic on Highway 38 near Seven Mile Road that afternoon, as so many motorists were getting off of the I and trying to find alternate routes to Milwaukee and other points north. Needless to say, Caledonians would surely have rather had those officers out on patrol or available to render assistance in emergencies.
There’s got to be a better way.
We shouldn’t have to white-knuckle it on I-94 until we hit the curve north of the county line.
Some of this is on us: We should all make a conscious effort to not follow the vehicle ahead of us so closely, and to not weave from lane to lane. We need to remember that while this situation exists, the margin for error in driving is close to zero.
But some of this is beyond the control of the individual motorist. This is where government intervention becomes necessary.
We urge Gov. Tony Evers to talk to the top officials at the state Department of Transportation about the current state of I-94 in Racine County. Reducing the number of lanes from three each way to two each way for the rest of the summer should be considered. It would obviously lengthen travel times, but it seems as though it could reduce the danger as well.
When accidents happen on I-94 these days, at best it’s 15-mile-long backups and village roads flooded with vehicles seeking an alternate route. At worst, it’s literally deadly.