WILMINGTON — As a record number of Americans are projected to hit the nation’s highways and interstates this week, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol (NCSHP) is taking part in a joint operation with seven other states along the I-40 corridor by placing state troopers every 20 miles along the interstate to prevent deadly collisions from taking place.
The Thanksgiving I-40 Challenge helped the NCSHP achieve a report of no fatalities on the Wednesday and Sunday of Thanksgiving week 2017, according to First Sergeant Michael Baker of the NCSHP.
Estimates from AAA show that 54.3 million Americans will journey more than 50 miles from home this week, the highest travel volume since 2005. IRIX, a global mobility analytics company, predicts travel time for the 48.5 million road travelers could be up to four times longer than a normal trip.
For Wilmington residents traveling inland to places like Raleigh and Charlotte, various projects — including those related to road damages from Hurricane Florence — that have required lane closures on major highways will place a hold on such closures beginning early tomorrow morning until next Monday evening.
Although I-40 and I-95 are clear, Baker urged travelers to plan for delays and map out secondary routes.
“Interstate corridors will see significant increases in traffic all over the state,” Baker said.
Florence-related repairs along I-40 and N.C. 53 have been completed, according to North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Wilmington Resident Engineer Daniel Waugh. The collapse on U.S. 421 at the New Hanover and Pender county line was temporarily repaired on Oct. 31 with the opening of a 2-way, 2-lane segment. Because that specific stretch of highway only handles 7,000 cars a day, Waugh said he does not expect any problems in this area during Thanksgiving week.
“As far as I know, all storm closures have been removed in Brunswick and New Hanover counties except for one washout in Boiling Spring Lake,” Waugh said.
He also said that N.C. 133 between Boiling Spring and Sunny Point reopened on Saturday after incurring flood damages from Florence.
Increasing troopers a psychological effect
Baker said the increase in troopers as part of the Tennessee-led Thanksgiving I-40 Challenge is primarily a preemptive, psychological strategy to reduce the number of deadly road collisions.
“Just seeing us out there helps drivers stay alert and vigilant,” Baker said. “This is not about revenue generation — it’s about keeping people safe, keeping traffic flowing, ensuring people get to their destinations safely.”
Speeding continues to be the leading cause of accidents in the state. Baker urged drivers to consider a simple illustration: someone driving 75 mph in a 65 mph zone will typically arrive at their destination only 30 seconds faster than if they had driven at the lawful speed.
“We live in a high pace world where people want to get to their destinations as quickly as possible,” Baker said. “But no one wants to get that dreaded call that a loved one has been killed, especially over the holidays.”
He said that I-95 will also see a large increase in law enforcement.
“Thanksgiving is a time for loved ones to once again unite together,” Colonel Glenn McNeill Jr., commander of the State Highway Patrol, said. “Our mission is simple; reduce needless collisions in hopes of reporting zero fatalities statewide.”
Baker said the second cause of road fatalities in North Carolina is distracted driving and encouraged drivers to stay off their phones while giving a two-second lead time between vehicles.
Troopers will also be on high alert for drunk driving: from 2012 to 2016, over 800 people across the U.S. died in crashes related to alcohol impairment during the Thanksgiving holiday period, making it the deadliest holiday on U.S. roads.
Baker urged travelers to use drivenc.gov for updated road conditions and road blockages.
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com