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NTSB: Crews failed to clear road of ice ahead of mass crash in Texas


DALLAS (AP) — The company responsible for maintaining a Texas highway where 130 vehicles crashed in icy conditions two years ago, which left six dead and dozens injured, deteriorating road conditions could not be handled, federal officials said Thursday.

That section of Interstate 35 West in Fort Worth was not treated with salt on the morning of the Feb. 11, 2021 crash, the National Transportation Safety Board said. The NTSB said the failure of North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners Segment 3 to handle the conditions contributed to the crash, as did drivers’ speeds.

The NTSB said that because of the predicted freezing rain and freezing rain, North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners Segment 3 pretreated I-35W’s southbound lanes with a liquid brine solution two days prior. But, the NTSB said, crews checking the road about 45 minutes before the crash failed to recognize that the elevated portion of the highway where the crash occurred needed additional de-icing treatment.

A spokesperson for North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners Segment 3 did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. The Texas Department of Transportation also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The pileup involving vehicles, trucks and trailers began just after 6 a.m. on the southbound toll lanes, which had a speed limit of 75 mph (120 kilometers per hour). Concrete barriers separated the southbound toll lanes from the northbound toll lanes and from the general southbound lanes.

The NTSB said the crash started when a vehicle hit the concrete barrier on the right side of the toll lanes. Other vehicles then began to slide, spin and crash into the barriers. Then a large truck crashed into some of those vehicles, and other vehicles that failed to stop also became part of the massive crash that blocked all southbound toll lanes.

NTSB said two of the dead were hit after getting out of their vehicles.

Before the crash, the area had temperatures below freezing for 36 consecutive hours. On the morning of the crash, crews had treated sections of the highway with salt, but not the section where the wreck occurred, the NTSB said. The agency said crews who visually checked the road 45 minutes before the wreck detected no moisture and did not apply salt.

But, the NTSB said, in the hours before the crash, rain fell and a light mist and fog was reported, and signs operated by North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners Segment along the southbound toll lanes displayed this message: “ICICE CONDITIONS EXIST/PLEASE USE CAUTION.”

Local officials said at the time that the road was so treacherous from the ice that several first responders responding to the crash fell when trying to help.

The NTSB’s recommendations include installing variable speed limit signs, adding sensors to reduce response times to hazardous road conditions, and providing training to better respond to winter weather conditions.

Three days after the crash, Texas’ power grid collapsed when another winter storm dropped temperatures below freezing for days. Millions of people were without electricity for days, leading to hundreds of deaths.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.