Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Region's worst bad-weather roads

Between now and the start of 2012, many of us in the Carolinas will hit the road for a visit with friends and family members.

This is a tricky time of year to travel.

Storm systems occasionally move across the South. They can produce a drenching, soaking rain that last for many hours, or sometimes they trigger rounds of showers and even severe thunderstorms (such as last week).

Dense fog can be a problem.

And as we progress deeper into the holiday season, the possibility of snow and ice rears its ugly head.

Based on conversations with a number of other people who travel a lot during the holidays, here is a list of sections of major highways that are the worst to travel at this time of year. I'm sure you'll have others to add, but this list of interstate roadways (and we're talking about segments of the roads, not the entire route) can be a real pain in the neck:

1. Interstate 77 at the N.C.-Virginia line: This is more than a pain in the neck. It's downright scary at times. The biggest problem is fog, but high winds and ice or snow also can provide the danger.

It's a stretch of about 10 miles that climbs more than 2,000 feet. Once, about 30 years ago, I was in a northbound car that struck a large rock. The rock had tumbled into the road during heavy rain, and we didn't see it until the last minute because of fog. It damaged our steering system. But there have been fatal crashes on this part of the road during fog events.

2. Interstate 26, in Henderson County: Once again, an altitude climb creates conditions that can lead to dense fog or icing. Four people died in a multi-vehicle wreck in October 2010 in this area, and I-26 is closed frequently during winter storms in Henderson County because of ice and snow. A large number of trucks use this road, and the combination of trucks, cars and fog sometimes is not good.

3. Interstate 40, at Black Mountain: A familiar theme here. There's a 6% elevation grade over a five-mile stretch of roadway, and it's been the scene of some nasty wrecks in the past. If you're eastbound (going downhill), test your brakes before you start. Because of the altitude climb, wet roads at the bottom of the climb can be icy at the top.

4. West Virginia Turnpike, Bluefield-Beckley portion: There's an altitude climb around mile marker 25, but the bigger problem here is icing in the winter. West Virginia road crews do a good job of staying on top of conditions, but if you're headed north and a cold rain or even snow is falling in Bluefield, be prepared for worse conditions ahead.

And consider making a rest stop at the big turnpike center near Beckley, because the portion of the road from there to Charleston is twisting and yet another headache.

5. Interstate 85, Greensboro to Durham: There are no altitude issues here -- just tons of traffic. And when heavy rain is falling, be careful. A number of times in recent years, traffic during the Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday weekends has been brought to a standstill by a multi-vehicle collision.

6. Interstate 81, various areas between Roanoke and Harrisonburg: One problem is I-81 has only two lanes in both directions, except for a few places near larger cities. The second problem is that half the population of the United States seems to travel this interstate highway on holidays or summer weekends.

Oh, yeah -- and some of the people who drive on I-81 seem a bit reckless. Add bad winter weather to all this, and you have the makings of a travel nightmare. It happens from time to time.

In all these cases, the various states' transportation departments have toll-free information lines, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and other ways of informing the public about wrecks and bad weather.

Before leaving home, make sure you have a way of being alerted in advance.


Anonymous said...

I agree with the comments on the trip from Beckley to Charleston. Especially in weather at night this can be a tricky stretch, in my opinion.