A report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has found that North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners Segment 3 (NTEMP S3), the company responsible for maintaining Interstate 35 West in Fort Worth, failed to address icy road conditions that led to a deadly 130-vehicle crash during a 2021 winter storm.
The accident occurred on February 11, 2021, on an elevated section of the southbound toll lanes of I-35W and involved both commercial and passenger vehicles. Around 6:00 a.m., a number of automobiles in the southbound toll lanes slid on the elevated roadway and collided with the concrete barriers next to the toll lanes.
The crash resulted in the deaths of six people, two of whom were pedestrians who were struck on the road after they had exited their vehicles, while 36 other people were injured and taken to area hospitals.
The NTSB called it a “failure of North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners Segments 3 to effectively monitor and address roadway conditions along Interstate 35 West during and after periods of freezing rain and mist.”
The NTSB found that NTEMP’s roadway monitoring process was deficient because company personnel did not identify the elevated portion of I-35W as needing additional de-icing treatment.
Prior to the crash, the area had experienced 36 consecutive hours of below-freezing temperatures, and the company had pre-treated the two southbound lanes with a liquid brine solution 44 hours before the crash, the NTSB determined.
NTEMP disagreed with the conclusions of the NTSB report, saying that it had pre-treated the corridor well within the prescribed pre-treatment window and monitored the entire length of I-35W’s corridor.
“Our crews patrolled in trucks with salt to de-ice identified areas and to test the highway around the clock,” said NTEMP in a statement, per CBS News. “NTE35W technicians drove through the area of the accident within 45 minutes before the first indication of rain in the incident areas. We pretreated all sections of I-35W–as well as the rest of the 40 miles of highway corridors we operate and maintain in North Texas.”
The report also claimed that training provided by the company was “insufficient” to prepare employees to monitor road conditions. If sensors had been installed near the crash site and on maintenance vehicles, personnel would have had additional data to determine that the road needed treatment, according to the report.
The NTSB found that the surface of the elevated roadway in the area of the crash was icy, which made drivers lose control of their vehicles, which then slid into road barriers and other vehicles.
The report also stated that drivers were traveling too fast for the icy road conditions.
“Reduced speeds would also have lessened the severity of the crashes once the vehicles began to slide on the icy road,” the report asserted.
Recommendations by the NTSB include installing variable speed-limit signs, adding sensors to reduce response times to weather-related hazardous road conditions, and providing training to Texas toll road facilities on how to better respond to winter storms.