Thursday, April 19, 2018
Transportation

Go ahead, close the road; we'll wait till it's safe

We have to go. We're in a hurry here.

We have to get where we're going, and now. We need to get home, to work, to play or to wherever it is that is not this highway we are currently traveling along on the way to where we need to be.

We are snowbirds headed south down Florida's interstates to settle in beach towns until it's time to turn around and go north again. We are locals off to college, or at least to college football games. We are day-trippers to Disney and vacationers mountain bound.

We are town-to-town commuters ready to mow down left-lane drivers who act like the speed limit is the law or something. We are long-haul truckers on deadline.

We are late.

This is our car culture, the state of our busy highways in Florida, where we need to get there as soon as possible, as in, now.

In the aftermath of a tragedy, you wonder how this mind-set might have played into a decision by the Florida Highway Patrol to reopen a stretch of Interstate 75 early Sunday that had been closed because of fog and smoke from a nearby prairie fire.

That decision preceded one of the worst crashes in Florida history, cars burned and smashed and pinned under semis along the highway south of Gainesville. Ten were dead and more were hurt. "Horrific" is overused in the news, but not here.

After something like this, we go searching for some precise moment that everything went wrong, a single bad choice, an absolute wrong move. Maybe we do this because we never again want to hear something as terrible as a family killed trying to get home to Georgia in time for morning church services.

We lived a similar nightmare in 2008 with a 70-car pileup on our notorious Interstate 4, one that left five dead, two from Tampa, and dozens injured. An investigation blamed that chain reaction crash on early morning fog mixed with smoke from a wildfire — sound familiar? — but also careless drivers.

No question, Florida weather can be as fierce, fickle and uncaring as a hurricane. It is our rite of passage to white-knuckle it through a sudden, vicious thunderstorm that turns daylight to black and blinds you past your own car hood.

So an abundance of caution starts to sound like a wise choice, no matter how much it might mess up our plans for the day.

For three hours last weekend, officials closed that part of I-75 because they ruled it too dangerous for driving. About 30 minutes after it re-opened, the crashes started.

So here we are again, awaiting an investigation into how this happened and, in this case, whether officials should have kept the road closed until daylight.

And can't you just imagine the phone calls of frustration, outrage and complaint that would have poured in to the FHP from us, the driving public that needs to get where it's going, if troopers had rerouted the highway. And we would never have known what didn't happen out there because they did.

I don't know about you, but I'm okay with a protocol for an abundance of caution, particularly given the unpredictability of our weather, like the kind of fog that comes in thick as a shroud.

When it's not safe, they should act, even if it's iffy, even if it's inconvenient. Close the road. We can wait.

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