After the horrific February 11th chain reaction that took the lives of six people and injured scores of others, it was announced that a federal agency would investigate. Well, that was the least that could happen. We need to find out what caused Fort Worth’s deadly crash and how another tragedy like this can be avoided.
However, the Fort Worth Star Telegram reported that the National Transportation Safety Board will only look into whether the toll lanes had been deiced before the historic storm shut down Texas for a week – if it makes a report at all.
Critics say a complete investigation and remedial action is needed. We wholeheartedly agree.
This was the worst massive collision in our city’s history. It could have and should have been prevented.
How Fort Worth’s deadly crash scene unfolded
Early that morning, freezing rain began falling. This added to the already iced over roads. It was dark outside.
Motorists driving down a hill on Interstate 35 between 28th Street and Northside Drive had no time to react to cars and trucks that had wrecked ahead of them. They slammed on their brakes but were unable to stop, causing a whopping 133 vehicles to collide into each other.
There are no shoulders on the toll lanes on the toll lanes. But they would not have been of much use with cars and trucks driving 75+ miles an hour on treacherous roads.
This bad weather was predicted. We warned drivers days before to stay off the roads and gave winter driving tests since we rarely, if ever, see them.
But the toll lanes remained open for business as usual, as if nothing bad could happen. There were no warning signs, barriers, lane closures, or police to reduce or slow down traffic.
After the tragedy, we asked
- why the toll roads with the 75-mile-per-hour speed limits were open in the first place, and
- whether the poor design of the toll roads made this pile-up inevitable.
What will happen next
It is not clear what will come out of the federal investigation, if anything. Usually, NTSB defers to state and other agencies and does not get involved in vehicle crashes. Further, it did not send out its own crash team as it should have done.
Who will investigate and who (if anyone) will be blamed?
The Texas Department of Transportation is not going to fault the North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners which owns and operates the toll lanes.
That private company gets to keep all of the tolls collected for 52 years in exchange for funding and building them. It allows as many drivers as possible to make more money — even during a crippling ice storm.
TxDOT is obviously not going to held liable since it was not in charge of the toll lanes and enjoys sovereign immunity from prosecution in most cases.
We may have to wait until the verdicts in the lawsuits that have and will be filed to learn what really happened. The first one was filed in South Texas against six of the 18-wheeler drivers and their companies, not against Mobility Partners.
That business has denied that it is at fault for causing Fort Worth’s deadly crash because it applied deicing brine on Tuesday night. This disaster happened Thursday morning.
Any report that blames road crews sweeps the real blame under the rug.
Is 75 mph a safe speed?
Further, the state legislature passed a law that set 75 miles per hour as the default speed limit unless a slower (or faster) limit was prescribed.
However the test that determined that 75 mph was safe was conducted in perfect conditions when the weather was good and traffic was light.
And we know that many drivers speed, so they may have been exceeding that limit that morning.
NTSB has the power to recommend that Congress or a federal agency make or revise laws based on what its investigation reveals.
The lethal combination of higher speed limits and poor road design
To hold down the cost of the $1.4 billion reconstruction of I-35 West, shoulders and break-down lanes were eliminated. Speeds limits were increased to encourage drivers to pay large tolls to use them.
The vice president of government affairs at the National Safety Council, Jane Terry, was furious about what happened here. “We need people to become outraged over this because we need to do better,” she said.
You have to wonder if speed limits are safe to begin with.
A national group called the Governors Highway Safety Association has urged the federal government to reduce speed limits to save lives. Its director called on Congress to curtail drivers who go to fast: “Let’s treat speeding the same way we treat seat belt use and drunk driving.”
The Biden administration is proposing that billions of dollars be added to the federal highway construction program. This is the perfect time to look into how our roads can be safer.
You can bet that the speed limits on the toll lanes are not going to decrease or that the expressway will be closed down the next time we have deadly weather like we did last month. And it is a given that the roads will not be redesigned to allow more room to avoid crashes. But they should.
Berenson Injury Law has successfully represented thousands of motorists over the past 40 years. We only handle car, truck, 18-wheeler, motorcycle, and pedestrian injury and death claims. We also advocate to make our roads safer so that crashes don’t happen in the first place.
Please contact us if you need any help with a crash that you have been involved with.
Star Telegram article: Will NTSB expand its probe into deadly I35W pileup?