Hug Your Loved Ones

No, this isn’t a post about Covid or the usual suspects when you see this particular piece of advice. It is a reminder that you never know what’s going to happen once you walk out our front door. That was proven yesterday in downtown Fort Worth when a number of factors, some preventable, came together in a perfect storm that cost at least six people their lives, sent dozens to the hopsital and closed a major highway down for more than 24 hours.

Here’s what so many of us woke up to yesterday.

It began before 0600 hrs. It happened in an area known to be problematical when there’s ice on the roads. That’s part of the preventable. This is an area where several highways/freeways merge and break off. These roads are elevated, which means they cool off much quicker than surface roads. But those are issues we’ve dealt with for decades down here. Fortunately, we don’t have more than one or two icy days every few years.

Where the real issue came was with the latest “improvements” to this stretch of road. Like so many other areas around the country, Tarrant County went looking for new revenue sources a decade or so ago. The result was the decision to transform many of our main highways so they had toll lanes. For new roads, this wasn’t an issue. These toll lanes were planned for and designed to be at least moderately safe for drivers.

For older roads, however, that’s where the problems come in. Roads were widened where possible. In other cases, shoulders were narrowed or done away with. There are stretches of these toll lanes around the area that are basically nothing but a single lane of traffic on each side with no shoulders and concrete barriers between the toll lane and the highway lanes on either side. As a result, a stalled car can create a backup that goes on for blocks if not miles.

These concrete barriers were put in place to prevent cars from either jumping into the toll lane–or jumping out–and thwarting the toll readers. As yesterday proved, they also prevent drivers from avoiding accidents. What started as an accident that could have been cleared fairly quickly turned into what authorities termed a mass casualty event that stretched for a mile or more.

Think about that.

Wrecked cars and trucks and semis, many sitting one on top of the other, for a mile or more.

Add in people trapped in their vehicles in freezing weather, potentially falling victim to hypothermia because emergency workers couldn’t easily or quickly get to them.

This is just one example of what those already stopped found themselves facing because there was no place for them to go thanks to the design of the toll lanes.

The question many people are asking this morning centers around what sort of treatment, if any, this stretch of road received prior to the icing conditions. That was something city officials couldn’t answer yesterday because–duh–they aren’t in charge of that part of the roadway. The company contracted to maintain the toll lanes is responsible. They say pretreatment began two days before the ice hit. But there are reports of there being sheets of ice in the area of the accident which would seem to imply either no treatment was made or inappropriate treatment was done.

Adding insult to injury, many of those who found themselves in the middle of this pile-up were medical workers. The hospital district isn’t far from there. Reports talk about the large number of people helped from vehicles (or transported to hospitals for treatment) wearing hospital IDs. With our hospitals already strained (and not just by Covid but by job openings, etc), this doesn’t help.

If there is any good news that comes out of this tragedy it’s this: no juveniles were injured or killed (as of the last time I checked).

There are a number of questions that need to be asked and answered after what happened yesterday. There are at least six families who won’t get to hug their loved ones again. These families and friends didn’t think when their loved one walked out the door, it would be the last time they’d see one another. So do me a favor. Give your loved ones a hug today.

Featured Image by Dirk Rabe from Pixabay

2 Comments

  1. We have the same stupidity over here in the UK, but in a different form Three-lane motorways are ‘improved’ by opening the old continuous refuge lane beside them to traffic. It’s had the predicted result – there nowhere to go if you have a breakdown or an accident, so following traffic just smashes into your vehicle at high speed.Sometimes it can be 30 minutes before any control room monitor even notices the smash on his TV.

    1. If my memory serves me correctly a few years back the standard assumption when carrying out the accident portion of the economic analysis of a new road scheme was that an ‘All Lanes Running’ 4-lane motorway section is neither more nor less safe than a 4-lane motorway section with hard shoulder. This wasn’t the transport modellers’ assumption, but an instruction from the Highways Agency (now Highways England).

      Initially an assumption of some sort was necessary because no actual real-life safety data existed for ‘All Lanes Running’ motorways. Now that the schemes have been around for a few years the accident analysis may have started using historical data, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the old assumption was still in place.

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