I-75 Fog Zone Closing - Flashbacks to 25 Years Ago
Thick, heavy fog formed on I-75 just after sunrise north of the Hiwassee River, just like it did 25 years ago. 12 people died back then, 42 people injured.
Since then, there's always at least one THP trooper watching for fog in the early mornings there..
This morning was a lot different from 25 years ago.
"When the call came out," says THP Lieutenant Carey Hixson, "I" didn't even have to tell my other troopers on duty.... they just automatically got on the radio saying "enroute, enroute, enroute."
"I mean.... they know."
Extremely heavy fog began forming just north of the Charleston exit on I-75.. forward visibility, about 320 feet. For the T-H-P, stage one: Lower the speed limit from 70 to 50.
"For the most part, people were slowing down, doing what we were asking," Lt. Hixson says.
But suddenly, forward visibility dropped to about 250 feet, which does not seem like much.
Except if you're going 50 miles per hour.
Stage Two: "The interstate was completely shut down at that time when it reached that lowest level," says Lt. Hixson.
Working with TDOT and law enforcement from Bradley and McMinn Counties, and Cleveland and Calhoun P-D's, hundreds of cars and trucks were diverted over to Highway 11, creating miles of gridlock.
But after the fog lifted, the emergency entrance ramp gates at mile markers 36 and 33 refused to open back up. "At exit 36, the entrance ramp gate failed because of a relay that stopped working once the gate was closed, and at exit 33, it looks like apparently a driver struck the gate arm shearing the pin which did not allow the gate to open back up."
TDOT workers eventually got both gates back open.
Normally, all the entrance ramp emergency gates are checked every four months. TDOT now says, the contractor who maintains them will now be required to test them, once a month.
The fog lifted quickly.. traffic on busy I-75 was back to normal about a half-hour later.
For law enforcement, no apologies for the overabundance of caution in the fog zone.
"We really want to make sure nothing happens like it did in 1990," Lt. Hixson says.
Miraculously, with all the detours and the heavy traffic this morning, the THP says there were no wrecks, accidents or injuries from this fog event.