They reach out to TDOT to determine the cause
The image of Andrew Gentry's mangled car wedged under a tanker truck on July 2 is haunting and is one of at least 30 accidents reported in the general vicinity near the 226 mile marker on Interstate 40 eastbound in Mt. Juliet since January.
Mt. Juliet city officials are alarmed at the number of wrecks in this area and want to figure out what's going on - and get it fixed, if possible.
They've reached out to the Tennessee Department of Transportation to see if there's a reason why so many cars hydroplane in heavy rain it this very specific area.
Gentry was with his two children when his vehicle hydroplaned, spun out and was wedged under the tanker. Miraculously the three escaped without critical injuries.
However, according to Mt. Juliet Police, that's not the case with some of the other accidents there. Eight of the 30 reported accidents since January resulted in injuries. Mt. Juliet Fire and Police officials noticed a pattern during downpours that cars spin out and strike the inside wall near the Mt. Juliet Road overpass, said MJPD Lt. Tyler Chandler.
As recently as Sunday police worked two simultaneous accidents during a rainstorm.
"In early June, Mt. Juliet's City Engineer Andrew Barlow contacted officials with TDOT after police and fire administration approached him regarding the pattern," Chandler said.
On May 26, a vehicle hit a MJPD car while the officer was on the scene working an earlier hydroplane crash.
And the list goes on.
"After some discussion with them (city fire and police leaders) a common denominator to all the crashes was that they occurred during heavy rain events and all originated from the HOV lane," Barlow said. "Armed with this information, I approached the district maintenance office of TDOT about the issue. We have actually been in contact with them as every crash occurred to help identify the problem."
TDOT officials are very aware of the problem and were on the interstate as late as Monday in an ongoing effort to examine the issue.
"Safety is a top priority for the department," said Heather Jensen, TDOT community relations officer on Monday. "As such, we greatly appreciate the efforts of the City of Mt Juliet and the Tennessee Highway Patrol to alert us to any concerns about road conditions. TDOT is not an investigative agency, so we rely on our law enforcement partners to report incident details. Currently, TDOT is reviewing the crash data provided by the city and THP. Analysis includes multiple factors including location, direction of travel, and time of day, in addition to weather conditions."
Along with analyzing crash date, TDOT maintenance crews checked the drains in the general area and reported all were clear, Jensen said.
"The roadway design is being reviewed, and a LiDar (Light Detection and Ranging) survey is underway, which will help identify any low-lying areas," explained Jensen.
Chandler said ultimately TDOT has control over the interstate.
"Mt. Juliet officials are grateful for their (TDOT's) responsiveness and actions to look into the issue," he said. "Motorists should be reminded that heavy downpours can bring measurable amounts of rain in short periods of time, which creates rapid ponding on roadways that can lead vehicles to hydroplane because they are traveling too fast for conditions. Motorists are urged to slow down during heavy rain to avoid possible hydroplaning."
Jenson added it was important to note the challenges of designing a roadway for "unpredictable weather conditions and driver behavior."
She echoed Chandler's advice.
"Significant amounts of rainfall in short periods of time can create potentially hazardous conditions like flash flooding or ponding on the roadway, and many motorists drive too fast for those conditions," Jenson said. "The department urges motorists to always reduce speed in wet conditions."
Barlow noted the laser system utilized by TDOT on Monday will help reveal "if there is any particular flat location causing the problem.
"It will likely take a few days by TDOT to process the data and inspect the survey to see if this is in fact the case," he said. "Possible solutions could include any number of fixes ranging from minor resurfacing work to broader drainage improvements."
Writer Laurie Everett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org