I’ve spent much of the last month traveling the country.

It’s always good to get away — one trip (for pleasure), we flew. The other (for work), I drove.

The trip I drove, my daughter and I traveled to Washington, D.C., for the ASNE-APME-APPM News Leadership Conference.

We got to see a lot of rain in southern Indiana. We got to see the open beauty of eastern Kentucky. We got to see the majestic mountains of West Virginia and Maryland. We got to see the chaos that is navigating through the Washington metropolitan area.

But, there’s the one thing I learned: Interstate 57 from Mount Vernon to the I-24 interchange is an absolute mess. Ironically, it was the worst stretch of highway on the trip, and that’s saying something if you’ve ever driven in or around D.C.

After being in the car for nearly 12 hours, five states, a few Grateful Dead songs and countless Diet Cokes, we were relieved to see the I-64/I-57 interchange on our way home. It meant we were finally going to be done with being inside a car.

But, our excitement was short-lived, as I-57 was backed up as far the eye could see. “Not now,” I thought to myself, along with a mess of other words not suitable for print. After all, we had been pretty much traffic-free for the last 12 hours.

Once we got on I-57, we found the reasons for the traffic — construction and a heavy state police presence.

When I saw the heavy police presence, my head immediately went back to all the headlines we’ve seen about all the deadly accidents on I-57. All the stories about wrecks, lane closures and fatalities. And, at the time, I didn’t even know about the crash that claimed the life of a man the day before.

So, after thinking about it, the beefed-up police presence was a good thing — a great thing, indeed. If that’s what it takes to make I-57 a safer place, then I’m all for it. And good for the Illinois State Police for being out there trying to make it safer.

But, really, there’s only one thing that’s going to make it safe — good, safe driving by the people that travel that road. And I’m not just talking about those driving cars and trucks. It goes especially for those driving semitrailers, too.

I’ve spent a lot of time driving I-57. For the most part, it’s a straight piece of road that runs from Chicago all the way to Cairo. It's a simple, flat highway, and there’s not too much to it.

But there has been countless times that I can remember looking in my rearview mirror and seeing a semi barreling down on me — and I’m going 70-75 mph. I can’t be the only one who goes through this.

Here’s the bottom line: Interstate 57 is good thing for Southern Illinois. It brings in people from all around the state and surrounding states. It helps with commerce. It’s our avenue to getting to major nearby cities, like Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Indianapolis or Louisville, just to name a few.

But it does us no good if it continues to get the reputation that it does — it really does seem like more deadly wrecks happen there than anywhere else.

People driving semitrailers, trucks, cars, motorcycles or whatever need to be more safe. The state, in the past few years, has put an added emphasis on distracted driving.

And, that’s fine, because it’s still relevant. But let’s also put some emphasis on slowing down and driving safe.

Slow down. Pay attention. Use the left lane for passing. Focus.

It’s the only way it’s going to get better on Interstate 57.

Tom English is the executive editor of The Southern Illinoisan. His columns include his own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of The Southern. He can be reached at tom.english@thesouthern.com or 618-351-5070. You can follow him on Twitter at @tomenglish23.


Executive editor

Tom English is the executive editor of The Southern.

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