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The Interstate 65 Lacon Mountain Nightmare


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Parts of Alabama had several inches of snow fall on Thursday.  But this post is not about the snowfall, this post is about the breakdown of communication that resulted in numerous people being stuck on Interstate 65 for up to 18 hours!  I-65 along the Cullman / Morgan county line climbs up Lacon Mountain.  From mile 319 to mile 317 Interstate 65 goes through several curves, tight and narrow bridges, and the highway climbs up a mountain.  Lately this stretch of Interstate has had several big accidents that causes traffic nightmares.

laconFor up to 18 hours on Thursday and Friday morning, people were stranded on Interstate 65 in the Cullman area.  From around 12 noon Thursday to Friday morning, people were stuck on the interstate as the highway was iced over and cars could not get up or down Lacon Mountain.  Also stopping traffic were accidents involving cars and trucks.  Here are some pictures from social media.

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The traffic jams started when heavy snow fell and covered the roads.  Then some tractor-trailers jackknifed and blocked the road.  The snow only fell for a few hours but I have to wonder why it took so long to get traffic moving again.  Sure, it would take a few hours to clean up the accident and get salt and sand down on the road.  But why did it take around 12-18 hours to get traffic moving again?  Being stuck that long is no excuse people!

I have kept up with the comments on social media and on forums and I am not happy seeing people sitting on the Interstate for up to 18 hours.  People were beginning to run out of gas to keep warm in their cars.  And can you imagine the parents with small children and infants.  Most cars probably had little or no food or water.  And where could go to the bathroom if you had to go.  Sure, some people could do #1 behind a car or a tree.  But where could you do #2?

The Red Cross opened up a shelter at the Cullman Civic Center but how could people get there if they could not get off the Interstate?  I have seen some comments saying the state troopers were going to ticket people on 4-wheelers that were trying to give people food and water.  And speaking of the state troopers, several people commented online saying they are staying in their warm cars instead of checking on people.  And the Cullman County and CulIman City Police were not requested to help the stranded motorists.  I hope that is not true.

And now since they say the Interstate is open, truckers are causing a big problem.  I have seen comments online saying truck drivers have gone to bed in the cab right in the middle of the Interstate blocking travel lanes.  And car drivers are having to honk their car horns and knock on the truck doors to wake up the drivers.  At times the police are having to sound their sirens to wake up the drivers.  Yes, there are log book hours for the truckers.  They have to stop the truck after ‘x’ amount of hours. If not it is a logbook violation and goes against the company safety score which is a big deal.  This can also cause the driver to be fined or fired.  But at the same time the truck drivers should not be sleeping in the middle of the Interstate!  People want to get off the Interstate, not spend another six hours stuck.

Even after I-65 was cleared, some motorists were stranded on the highway because they could not get around trucks that were parked on the Interstate.  The police should have forced the trucks to get off the highway so stuck motorists could get off the highway at the next exit to get food and gas.  The police should also force drivers to get off the highway ahead of the traffic jam so they would not get stuck as well.  Clearly there was a huge lack of communication here!  The police and ALDOT should have forced all traffic to get off at the next exit like they do in states out west when road conditions are poor.  Being stranded could kill someone!

So after everything is cleaned up and the finger-pointing is over.  What should be done to stop the multiple wrecks happening at Lacon Mountain?  I have a couple of ideas which I think ALDOT and the state troopers should enforce.  One, no trucks should be allowed in the left lane through the Lacon Mountain I-65 stretch.  Getting stuck behind a truck going 55 in the left lane to pass another truck going 50 in the right lane should be banned.  Two, I would reduce the speed limit in that area to 55.  Having a speed limit of 70 through the Lacon Mountain stretch is too fast because the fast speed is causing way too many wrecks.  If ALDOT can reduce the speed limit along I-20 to 55 because someone got killed by a pothole.  They can do the same thing along I-65.

Eventually ALDOT will need to redo the stretch of I-65 through Lacon Mountain.  The bad curves, narrow bridges, steep hills, and high traffic counts are too much for I-65.    I wonder how many more accidents, injuries, and deaths will happen before something is done to fix the problem?  I also feel bad for all the drivers who had to suffer for up to 18 hours in the cold weather stuck on I-65.  Someone should be held responsible for this; this would have not happened in other states.

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5 replies »

  1. we were there- from 2pm till 11:30 pm. The truckers were not the problem, largely they did the safe thing – stop and shut down because the ice was causing fishtailing which is even more dangerous in the dark. Those knocking to wake truckers up were the unsafe people. A helicopter that landed behind us to evacuate a patrolman who slipped on the ice and hit his head – in the dark, in the cold. I’m sure people were shocked driving both ways to find such terrible conditions both directions. North and south beyond those exits were mostly clear. We drove into a trap and were fortunate to get through it safely. People getting out of the car took a big chance of slipping on the slush and ice. From the time we pulled to the side to sleep thru the night on northbound 65 about 7pm, until 11:30 when we decided to move, the sand trucks went by 3 times on southbound 65, but nothing was done on northbound 65

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  2. After they said they got northbound traffic moving around midnight some people could not get off because they were blocked by trucks. Some people were stuck there from midday Thursday to around 5 am Friday morning. I just do not know how those people could have survived that long. ALDOT and the police should have shut down the Interstate way before Cullman and forced traffic off instead of having them spend the night on the Interstate.

    I heard about the helicopter that landed to airlift a patrolman who slipped on the ice and hit his head. But still, if we were in another state they would have shut down I-65 and forced all traffic off before things got to the way they were Thursday night.

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  3. I saw you comment on the WHNT story and yes there are problems within ALDOT. For example, ALDOT could have used Facebook and Twitter to provide updates on road conditions and updates to the people stranded. Every state around Alabama uses Facebook and Twitter to update people about roads but Alabama does not. ALDOT also needs to get better technology to warn the traveling public. If you go to the Tennessee. Florida, Mississippi, and Georgia DOT websites you can look at detailed conditions and camera images plus the message board statements.

    Also, why does the Alabama DOT don’t have a 511 system like every state around us has? ALDOT and other official road people does not like the Geek Alabama blog and yes, I take that as a badge of honor.

    It’s sad when you have to rely on James Spann for traffic info.

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  4. You are so right. Facebook and Twitter would be wonderful but just a minimum effort of web updates with current conditions should be expected. I’m familiar with Tennessee’s TDOT system. TN message boards post shut downs and detours. I believe there are signs around Birmingham but my husband was past there when the road was shut down.
    I realize staff was busy and doing what they could with the weather situation. I can only hope their spokeswoman was sleep deprived when she made that statement. Thank you for your insightful post.

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