Friday, March 6, 2015

I-24 snarl snags hundreds for hours

By Eli Pace
Kentucky New Era

A pair of jackknifed semis turned the westbound lanes of Interstate 24 into a parking lot Wednesday night between Cadiz and Paducah, leaving as many as 400 vehicles stranded at the peak of the pile up as state road crews worked to get traffic flowing again.

Some drivers spent as long as 16 to 17 hours in the standstill before road graders were able to cut open one lane, said Keith Todd, spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

Todd said the Transportation Cabinet closed on I-24 Wednesday night, shortly after the two semis wrecked around 7 p.m., but some people didn’t heed the warning.

At about 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Gov. Steve Beshear held a conference call and said there were as many as 200 cars and trucks still stranded on I-24.

Similar issues were reported along Interstate 65 with hundreds more vehicles caught in long standstills near Elizabethtown in central Kentucky.

Among the stranded motorists along I-65 were the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s wife and other members of his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition staff. The group was on its way to join Jackson in Selma, Alabama, for this weekend’s events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They said they got stuck on I-65 at about 2:30 a.m. and remained there well into Thursday morning.

“We’ve had people stranded since 8 o’clock last night,” Kentucky State Police Trooper Jeff Gregory said midday Thursday. “It’s been chaotic.”

The agonizingly long waits came as a late winter storm walloped Kentucky with up to 2 feet of snow in some parts of the commonwealth. Where the biggest problems arose on I-24, there was as much as 15 inches of snowfall with snowdrifts up to 2 feet or higher, Todd noted.

“I think a lot of people underestimated this one,” he said. “That extra inch of sleet (that came before the snow) made things a lot worse.”

Gov. Steve Beshear declared a state of emergency and authorized the National Guard to help with relief efforts.

With the one open lane on I-24 West, soldiers with the National Guard and state crews began pushing vehicles into the clear lane, and traffic started moving again.

Beshear said their biggest concern was that stranded drivers could run out of gas, leaving them and their passengers without a source of heat. However, there were no reports of storm-related deaths, he said.

The westbound lanes of I-24 reopened between the mile markers 45 and 50 at about 2 p.m. However, no sooner did the interstate reopen than another semi got crossways on the exit ramp to Interstate 69 North in Lyon County and blocked the onramp.

“A lot of this is people trying to go too fast,” Todd said. “They just will not slow down.”

Todd said warmer temperatures this weekend should help, but until then, drivers should exercise extreme caution or just stay home.

Original Story

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