The Dangerous 20 Bypass - Part 2: Are some sections worse than others?

The Bypass is known for being dangerous in winter weather, but are some sections more dangerous than others?

To be sure, not all sections are alike. The stretch of the Bypass that runs through Indiana is about 33 miles long. It runs from the state line, around the southern tip of South Bend, and into Elkhart County.

Some parts were built back in the 1960s, and others as late as the '90s. No two are exactly alike.

November 18, 2014, was a snowy, dangerous day on the Bypass. Engine 41 had just arrived on the scene of an accident.

Before firefighters had time to get out of the truck, it was hit from behind by a semi carrying pickles.

"I had three firefighters that were transported by ambulance to be checked out. The truck has heavy, heavy damage," Southwest Central Fire Territory Chief Dale Wedel explained. "We've just been lucky, and this time, luck wasn't on our side."

But perhaps it was more than bad luck. The Southwest Central Fire Territory covers a section of the Bypass that is notoriously bad in bad weather.

It has been the scene of two fatal accidents in the past four months.

"I know that over by Mayflower where that curve is it's pretty bad over there. I will not go that way," explained commuter Corey Boyd. "Four lanes wide open cement across a plain right there. It's going to get nasty."

We decided to take a closer look at the 9.3-mile stretch of the Bypass that is north and west of the interchange at U.S. 31 south. It's not like the rest of the Bypass in a couple of key ways.

While a concrete barrier runs down the middle of the road for nearly the entire 33-mile length, the left shoulder of the road that separates the barrier from the nearest lane of traffic is just six to six and a half feet wide by our measurements. On the eastern two thirds of the Bypass, it is 12 feet wide -- twice as big.

Since much of this stretch of the road is elevated on the right shoulder, drivers commonly find a guard rail and a steep drop.

"That's a disaster waiting for something to happen because you can't even steer out of somebody's way," Wedel explains. "If the car in front of you starts to slide or whatever, you've got steep banks on one side and you've got a concrete barrier in the middle."

The combination leaves little room for error if a vehicle starts to lose control, and perhaps vehicles are inherently more likely to lose control here.

"It is a fact that overpasses and bridges freeze over faster than the rest of the roadway," explains INDOT spokesman Matt Deitchley.

The Bypass north of State Road 23 has eight bridges and overpasses, and just four underpasses, while the ratio for the entire Bypass is more like fifty-fifty.

North of State Road 23, drivers encounter an average of one overpass every mile. The ratio for the entire road is one overpass every 1.7 miles.

"The Michigan sections, a little bit more, have the grassy median in the middle of it. We have, obviously, the concrete barrier, so your margin for error is much tighter down here," explains Asst. Chief Bill Thompson of the St. Joseph County Police. "It's much more unforgiving in terms of it's got some steep ditches on the off side of the road and a big concrete barrier in the middle. It's a place that requires your attention when you're driving through it."

There is some danger associated with the entire length of the Bypass. Much of the road was built out in the open, making it vulnerable to blowing snow and icing.

But keep in mind, the further west and north you go, the road narrows and there's less room for error and a somewhat greater chance for ice to form.

The narrow section was built decades before the wider section, and we're told the minimum width for a left paved shoulder next to a concrete barrier is four feet, so there's nothing inherently wrong with a six foot shoulder.