Portage first responders were called to a pair of crashes in the Highway 16 construction zone Monday afternoon on the west side of Portage.
The first was reported around noon at the Interstate 39 intersection and the second, at 5 p.m., only a few dozen yards away at La Dawn Drive.
Portage Police Chief Ken Manthey said the first crash was alcohol-related, and said the driver registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.20, more than twice the legal limit. He said the second crash involved an inattentive driver, who pulled out in front of a motorcycle.
“It is especially important for people in a construction zone to slow down, pay attention, and just keep your head on a swivel,” Manthey said.
Construction crews are installing a roundabout at the intersection of Highway 16 and Interstate 39 in the area of the crashes.
According to police, the first crash occurred when a car driven by Jay Tozer, 61, of Wisconsin Dells made a left-hand turn in front of an oncoming truck. Tozer later was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.
Police said later in the afternoon, 38-year-old Kelli Schlitt, of Beaver Dam, turned left onto Highway 16 from La Dawn Drive and struck a motorcyclist.
Authorities said the motorcyclist was alert and appeared mobile at the time of the crash, but was taken from the scene by ambulance. Schlitt was later cited for failure to yield while making a left turn, resulting in injury.
Prior to the pair of crashes Monday, police said one other incident has been reported in the construction area since work began in early May. That crash resulted in no injuries.
DOT project manager Matt Dapp said crews pay close attention to the safety of their workers and motorists in construction zones.
“We try to stay on top of it,” Dapp said. “We’ve been on this stage for a few weeks, so there haven’t been any changes.”
The crews are finishing stage two of four, Dapp said, with paving expected to start next week, followed by work moving to the opposite side of the highway.
Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Richard Hoege said the installation of the roundabout should improve safety in the area, as collisions in a roundabout involve lower speeds and less hazardous angles of approach.
“It’s a four-lane intersection that crosses an interstate interchange and another state highway,” Hoege said. “So I think people get confused, as well as hesitate and then there are other people who know exactly where they are going and are going the speed limit or above and that causes issues.”
Prior to the start of construction, the only other incidents reported this year in the area were a crash Feb. 9 involving failure to yield while making a left turn at Columbia Drive and on Jan. 15, when a driver slid on a wet roadway and hit a sign at Murphy Road.
Even after construction is complete, Dapp said drivers should always be on alert.
“Slow down, plan ahead, follow the law and that people pay attention,” Dapp said.
To follow changes at the interchange and other DOT projects, visit 511wi.gov, where an interactive map shows the status of ongoing construction along with incidents and travel warnings.