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Frank Gray

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Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette
A horse-drawn buggy heads down U.S. 27 on Friday. Many are calling for buggy lanes to be installed.

Cost of no buggy lane too high

On April 12, 2012, a buggy driven by the wife of Martin Schwartz was hit by a car while traveling on Indiana 124 in Adams County. Three of her children were killed, and the other occupants of the buggy were seriously injured.

It wasn’t the first time members of the family had been involved in a buggy-car crash. Martin Schwartz had been hit by a car while traveling on Indiana 124 not long before the fatal crash.

Schwartz said after the crash that killed three of his children, “A lot of people came to me and said, ‘Surely you’re going to quit using 124.’ ”

But he said that even though he dreads using the road, which has no shoulder, forcing buggies into the traffic lane, he has no choice but to use it.

He could use county roads, but they really aren’t any safer, and eventually buggy drivers have to use or cross 124 or U.S. 27.

It was several months ago that Schwartz approached some people in the community and asked if anything could be done.

In response, the Decatur law firm of Burry, Herman, Miller & Brown started a petition calling for buggy lanes to be installed along 124, which travels east to west across the entire county, and along U.S. 27, which traverses the county from north to south.

Both roads are main drags for people traveling through the county, including heavy trucks, and many of the drivers might not be aware of the large Amish population in Adams County and might not be prepared to encounter horse-drawn buggies.

In fact, there aren’t even any signs, or very few, advising motorists that buggies use the roads.

U.S. 27 does have wide shoulders that can be used by buggies, but only on a portion of the road through the county.

Ironically, as the petition drive was underway, Martin Schwartz was hit by a car again, this time while traveling on County Road 000, a heavily traveled road that he described as “a genuine race track.” He spent nine days in the hospital recovering from his injuries.

And that’s just the Schwartz family. Adam Miller, a partner in the law firm handling the petition, provides a list of news articles on Amish buggy crashes in the last three years in which people were killed or injured.

Mark Burry, also a partner in the law firm, estimates that there is one buggy-car crash in Adams County every month. It’s possible that many more accidents are never reported, so it’s hard to pin down the number.

In light of the flurry of accidents and fatalities in the last few years, though, Burry said, now is the time to get things rolling.

But people like Burry aren’t deceiving themselves. It’s an expensive proposition.

Burry is an attorney for the county. He knows how much roads cost and the work and the complications involved in road construction and improvement.

But he also points out some other realities. About 25 percent of the population of Adams County is Amish, and the Amish are growing much faster than the rest of the population.

“A lot of commerce takes place within the Amish community,” Burry said. “They need to be able to travel and engage in commerce. It’s expensive, but you’ve got to start somewhere. It’s ambitious, but it’s worth pursuing.”

A similar situation exists in Daviess County in southern Indiana. For 30 years there were efforts to create buggy lanes, but it wasn’t until about two years ago the county got a $2.5 million grant from the Indiana Department of Transportation to build buggy lanes along one main drag.

The call for buggy lanes is a big one, but state and federal transportation departments need to be familiar with the makeup of communities when building roads.

There’s no arguing that the lack of buggy lanes in parts of Adams County is a deadly problem. The solution will be costly, but the price is high either way.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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