Law enforcement and recovery personnel converge on a car carrier that crashed on 136 East.
NEWS/V I E W P O I N T S
I keep trumpeting in The Planet that truck traffic on Highway 136 is an increasingly grave problem. Yesterday, my point was proved rather dramatically. As it happened, I was on the scene this time, my day got highjacked, and I had a camera. So I thought I'd report this particular news event as a personal account.
This past weekend at the Planet house had turned out to be more work than R&R, so Mr. Planet and I elected to steal a little leisure time back on Monday. He had the day off and I, after finishing up the cop news, decided I could take the afternoon off until the school board meeting at 5 p.m. Accordingly, we packed up the dogs and set off for a bang-up lunch at the Canyon Quick Stop followed by a hike at Cloudland Canyon. We took both cars and parked one in the Ingle's parking lot so spouse and the "faminals" could go home while your narrator stayed in town for the B of E meeting.
We phoned in our lunch order on the way--the Canyon Quick Stop cheeseburger is at the top of my list of guilty pleasures, and thus seemed appropriate for playing hooky on a Monday--and headed up Lookout Mountain on Highway 136 East at about 2 p.m.
Almost immediately, traffic stalled and we saw the scene depicted at the top of this article. A car carrier had wrecked in the top horseshoe curve on the way up the mountain, and rescue and law enforcement vehicles were all over.
Later, I requested an accident report from the Georgia State Patrol, and this was what I received from GSP's Andrew Gideon:
Initial information is that a car hauler was traveling west on Ga 136. Cause appears to be that the vehicle had brake failure coming down the mountain. Vehicle was unable to negotiate the curve and traveled off the roadway. Vehicle struck a gate coming to rest facing north in the tree line with no injuries.
So no one was hurt. The car carrier had crashed into the gate at the pull-off in the switchback, and it looked to Mr. Planet and me as if the driver had headed for it deliberately, to keep from hurtling on down the mountain out of control or into the trees.
We proceeded on up the mountain to the Canyon Quick Stop for our bang-up lunch and I am happy to tell you the cheeseburgers were as guiltily pleasurable as ever. This is a local, family-run place where they make the burgers from scratch and if you have never had one you should put it on your bucket list.
We then went on to Cloudland Canyon where we tried to walk off the approximate 2 million calories (there were French fries involved here, too, I'm afraid) on the Back Country Trail in yesterday's 83-degree heat. There was a nice breeze and still some water in the creeks for the dogs, a good time was had by all, and we finished our hike about 4:30 p.m., in good time to get me down the mountain for the B of E meeting.
I never made it! Partway down 136, all westbound traffic halted. We waited at a dead stop while the minutes before 5 p.m. ticked slowly away. I was philosophical, figuring anyway that if I was ever on time for a meeting the other participants would all drop dead with heart attacks. Then we inched forward and were diverted by cops into the eastbound lane.
We had known at once the problem was going to be that car carrier from earlier in the afternoon and that in fact was the case. The car carrier was out of the switchback and now stopped in the westbound lane while men tried to reattach it to a tow truck that had been hauling it away.
Ironically, we were right in front of the B of E office on 136 at precisely 5 p.m. The snag was, our other car was down on Highway 11 in the Ingle's parking lot. I told Mr. Planet the obvious solution was for him to drop me off and I could catch a ride after the meeting to the Ingle's with a friend, except for the obvious problem: I don't have any.
So we inched past the car carrier and its long Dr. Seuss-like entourage and on down to Highway 11, where we were able to turn right and get to the Ingle's parking lot without further incident. Mr. Planet and the dogs headed homeward and I cranked up the pickup truck and...
...sat there through at the traffic light for the rest of the afternoon! The men with the wrenches must have succeeded in securing the car carrier to the tow truck again, because here it came at the speed of a glacier. It proceeded slowly and regally through the central Trenton intersection, more endless and Dr. Seusslike than ever, as long as a train. Please note the position of the first car on the carrier. Here is the above photo cropped so you can see it better.
It had slipped down over the windshield of the truck!
The car carrier/tow truck procession went north on 11 and finally disappeared into the distance while I sat at the stoplight as it changed from green to red to green again. Traffic was so snarled on Highway 136 East that traffic on Highway 11 South had backed up trying to turn left on it. It was at a complete standstill, rush-hour traffic was continuing to pour off I-59, and on the Ingle's side of the stoplight I had no hope of turning left on 11, much less left again on 136.
I finally realized that Dade was going to have to do without The Planet keeping it safe for democracy, at least as far as the August meeting of the Board of Education was concerned. I switched lanes, turned right, and went to the Dollar General on Highway 11 North to buy a few dry goods and soak up the air conditioning.
And that is the story of What I Did on Monday. Today I called Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley for comment and he said yes, 136 truck traffic had been getting even worse since the much-heralded Inland Port near Chatsworth opened two weeks ago. The idea of the port, he explained, is that goods come on trains to the Chatsworth hub, then are loaded on trucks for transport from there. So it does cut down on the truck traffic in Atlanta--but makes it exponentially worse here. "Anything headed to Nashville or Birmingham, we get," said Rumley.
And because Chattanooga traffic has gotten so awful, a lot of traffic that really should stick to the interstates is being channeled over 136. "Their dispatchers are trying to bypass Chattanooga," said Rumley. He said Dade deputies question the semi drivers as rescue personnel pull them back onto the road--a not uncommon event these days--and the drivers tell them they were directed this way.
He said, parenthetically, that county personnel had recently had to rescue a truck driver from Newsome Gap Road, the partially dirt road that goes down Johnson's Crook to Rising Fawn. "Their GPS still shows it as a state route, apparently," said Rumley. "They get a certain amount down it and then they can't back out."
Clearly, Highway 136 with its hairpin turns and sheer drops is not that much fitter a road for huge semis hauling heavy loads than Newsome Gap, but there's not much the county can do about it. It's in the lap of the Georgia Department of Transportation, said Rumley. "It takes them forever to do anything," he said. "But it is on their radar."
He said he understood, anyway, that Dade deputies ticketed truck drivers who got stuck on 136. But Sgt. Chad Payne, information office for the Dade Sheriff's Office, said he'd heard of no such instances. "Highway 136 is a state highway," said Sgt. Payne. "Trucks are allowed to use that route, so I don't even know what we would be citing them for, unless they committed a traffic violation."