In light of the tragic 95-vehicle pile-up on Interstate 77 in Fancy Gap on Easter Sunday, the Carroll County Board of Supervisors and Hillsville Town Council have passed identical resolutions to improve safety on the highway.
The resolution, passed Monday night by both groups, asks the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation to limit all Southbound tractor-trailer traffic from Exit 8 in Fancy Gap to Exit 1 in Lambsburg to 55 miles per hour. The resolution also requests VDOT to restrict tractor trailer traffic to the right lane from mile maker 8 to mile marker 1 on I-77 Southbound, and from mile marker 1 to mile marker 8 on I-77 Northbound.
Additionally, the board of supervisors’ approved a letter be sent with addendums requesting VDOT to take a look at other safety measures on that stretch of I-77.
Dense fog was the cause of a 95-vehicle pileup that claimed the lives of three people and injured 25 others on Easter Sunday. In total, 17 separate crashes were involved in the pileup between mile markers 6 and 5 in the southbound lane of I-77 in Fancy Gap. At the epicenter of the crashes was a 6-8 vehicle crash in which the vehicles caught fire.
A similar incident occurred on November 16, 2010 at the 7 mile marker of I-77 southbound in Fancy Gap that involved 75 vehicles and left two dead.
The addendums to the resolution were suggested by Pipers Gap Supervisor Dr. Tom Littrell.
“These are some things that just kind of came to my mind and they may require some changes in some laws or may require transportation funds to be spent, but I felt like it would be important to at least bring them to the attention of those who would be responsible for possibly implementing these,” Littrell said.
The first addendum would be to recommend VDOT to install electronic speed limit signs that would allow variable speeds based on the weather language, “and note in the strongest possible language that the speeds would be strictly enforced.”
“The second thing I thought about, and the deputy sheriff may see this as a very bad idea, but the worst thing you can do is come up on somebody who is traveling slower than you are and not have a chance to slow down,” Littrell said. “But under these same type of weather conditions, and have signage to this affect, require vehicles to use emergency flashers during these weather problems.”
The third addendum would be to have police cars parked at the beginning of the two areas on Fancy Gap Mountain with their lights flashing.
“It automatically makes you slow down because you realize there are people there enforcing those reduced speed limits,” Littrell said.
Board Chairman David Hutchins said he was visiting family in New York when the pile-up occurred. At least in the Empire State, he said the accident was broadcast as one of the worst, if not the worst, in history. After reflecting on the damage and those that lost their lives, Hutchins asked everyone at the board meeting to take part in a moment of silence.
Fancy Gap Supervisor Phil McCraw, who recently was able to work out a deal to allow school buses to travel down U.S. 52 South to Cana instead of Interstate 77 because of safety concerns, said he has long been worried about safety on I-77. He read the resolution aloud before Littrell recommended the three addendums.
Supervisor Joshua Hendrick expressed concerns, saying he would be hesitant to make specific recommendations within a resolution to VDOT, because the agency will have to do a traffic study regardless of anything it decides to do.
“Nobody is going to enact anything without a traffic study of the full site. My questions would be do we need to make it more generic and push for a comprehensive study from (mile markers) 1 to 8, and then in the letter include things we thought might help? The reason I say that, Poplar Camp has truck traffic (limited) to the right lane, but it is never enforced,” Hendrick said. “The enforcement is always a question too, but I think we need to push for something. Whatever action VDOT takes will go through a traffic study.”
After more discussion, the board unanimously passed a motion to send in the resolution as written, along with a letter with Dr. Littrell’s recommendations.
During the Hillsville Town Council meeting, a similar resolution passed unanimously with very little discussion. Councilman David Young thanked Town Manager Travis Jackson for his work with County Administrator Gary Larrowe on the resolution, then proposed council approve it in order to protect local residents as well as travelers on I-77.
Councilman Greg Yonce asked if the resolution council was voting on was identical to the one the Carroll County Board of Supervisors had approved in their meeting earlier that night, and Jackson said it was. Yonce also questioned the length of the restriction on trucks, saying he remembered reading “about a 12-mile distance,” rather than the eight-mile distance in the resolution being considered. Jackson said the longer distance had been discussed, but he and Larrowe had settled on the shorter restriction.
Young then renewed his motion to pass the resolution. Billy Walls Sr. seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.