White-knuckle roads

| May 07, 2008

Some drivers prefer to avoid the Centennial State altogether, especially I-70. “We won’t even go through Colorado,” says Dora Colvin, 2006 Truckload Carriers Association/Truckers News Company Equipment Driver of the Year and team driver with her husband, Butch, who have more than 40 years driving experience each. “Butch ran a bus up there hauling skiers for 10 years, so he knows those conditions and we stay out of them. We don’t run 70 in the West in the winter time. You get so many storms. When we’re going that way, we use the internet to find road blockages, and we’ll go around it if there’s any way possible.”

An unlikely but thorough source for road conditions in Colorado is realtor Dick Gilbert’s website (www.dickgilbert.com/I-70cams.htm), which includes webcams of all the major – and not-so-major – cities on I-70 and links to a multitude of weather and traffic reports.

Pea soup
Fog was responsible for some of the worst crashes in Tennessee state history – including a 125-car pile-up in 2002 – and they happened on I-75 about 30 miles north of Chattanooga, a spot known for its terrible habit of developing thick, blinding fog. So many big accidents have happened on this section of highway that the local government invested funds in expensive electronic speed limit signs equipped with lasers to sense fog and allow police to change the speed limit when necessary.

Many veteran drivers – especially ones who travel through coastal, mountainous and humid areas – will tell you fog is their least favorite road condition to travel through. “I would have to say fog is the worst,” says 38-year veteran trucker Adams, who drives throughout the Midwest for Roadway, “because you can’t see where you’re going. You just have to find a place to get off the road and wait it out.”

When the fog is thick, your visibility can drop to zero, and that leaves drivers vulnerable.
“We lost a good friend and his son in a head-on collision, truck accident, years ago, and it was because of fog, and it haunts me to this day,” says Colvin, who drives with her husband for Con-Way Truckload. “You’re not in control, and any time you give up control, you’re in trouble. The conditions are stronger than we are in situations like that.”

To check up on the conditions on this stretch of I-75 before you get there, try perusing the links at I-75 Online (www.i75online.com), a travel information site with weather, gas prices, traffic conditions and more.

Triple threat
One of the most hazardous stretches of road in the generally notorious Northwest is Emigrant Hill, nicknamed “Cabbage Hill” – a 7-mile downgrade 35 miles west of La Grande, Ore., on I-84. It combines a double hairpin curve and steep hill with variable and often severe weather conditions – including snow, fog and black ice – for much of the year.

The hill is especially dangerous to over-the-road truckers, reports the Oregon Department of Transportation, which claims that more than 78 percent of accidents on Cabbage Hill involve out-of-state motor carriers.

To help truckers avoid the dangers, warnings signs provide recommended speeds, and two escape ramps are located at Milepost 221 and 220. Also, drivers in trucks with Green Light transponders will receive a personalized message with the recommended speed.

Oregon boasts some of the steepest interstate grades in the United States, including the nation’s steepest at Siskiyou Summit, a mountain pass just north of the California border.

The Colvins are familiar with Oregon – a little too familiar this year, they say. “We’ve been caught in Oregon and Wyoming something fierce this winter,” Dora Colvin says. “It’s been an interesting winter. I said if this winter doesn’t turn me gray, nothing will!”
For detailed tips on how to navigate Cabbage Hill, visit ODOT’s website (www.oregon.gov/ODOT/MCT/docs/EmigrantHill.pdf). For road conditions across Oregon, call (800) 977-6368.

Bad and beautiful
One of the longest stretches of dangerous road in the country is the 500 miles of I-44 between St. Louis and Oklahoma City, which follows the outer curve of the picturesque Ozark Mountains. The entire 500 miles isn’t dangerous, but there are enough white-knuckle spots throughout to qualify the whole thing.

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