Campus, law enforcement, state officials giving fair warnings about holiday travel

Becky Campbell • Nov 27, 2013 at 7:07 AM

Officials are stressing safe traveling leading into the Thanksgiving holiday. The weather report through today has remained the same — possible freezing rain turning into snow throughout the morning.

East Tennessee State University and University High canceled classes for today to give students the best chance at traveling the roads. ETSU announced early this morning that the campus, including offices, would be closed.

“When we do have inclement weather, which we get every year, the decision is made on what’s best for the students,” said Joe Smith, of ETSU media relations.

Jerry Hevrdeys, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown, said although much more snow will fall, about three inches can be expected to stick around and travelers should give themselves extra time to get to their destinations.

Johnson City police said on top of pushing careful driving with the weather, they will be working with the state on cracking down on buzzed and drunken driving. In a news release, the JCPD said there were six people injured in the area as a result of vehicle accidents over the Thanksgiving Day weekend last year.

During the Thanksgiving 2012 holiday period, one person died on Tennessee roads every 12 hours and 45 minutes, but state officials hope to curb that this year.

Of the eight traffic fatalities last year, only one occurred in Upper East Tennessee. It happened in Carter County the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol will join federal officials for what it’s calling the “Interstate 40 Challenge: The Drive toward Zero Fatalities.”

The traffic campaign joins THP, the Department of Transportation, the Governor’s Highway Safety Office, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and seven other state police or highway patrol agencies to increase patrols along the I-40 corridor.

The increased patrols will take place over two 12-hour traveling periods — one today and the other Sunday. Those are the two heaviest traveling periods for motorists as travelers head to their holiday destination today and return home Sunday.

THP Col. Tracy Trott “has been instrumental in organizing this nationwide traffic safety effort to create a greater law enforcement presence on Interstate 40 from North Carolina to California and to help reduce serious injury and fatal crashes on the I-40 corridor,” TDOS Commissioner Bill Gibbons said earlier this week. “We’d like to thank all of the participating law enforcement agencies and highway safety advocates who are promoting this initiative and partnering with us to save lives.”

The I-40 Challenge is a joint effort among law enforcement from the California Highway Patrol, Arizona Department of Public Safety, New Mexico State Police, Texas Department of Public Safety, Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Arkansas State Police and North Carolina Highway Patrol.

Each agency will assign a state trooper every 20 miles of Interstate 40 from noon to midnight today and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

“We determined through research and road experience that the two designated 12-hour periods were the most heavily traveled times during the Thanksgiving holiday. It is my hope that constant visibility from state to state will have an impact on driver behavior and potentially save lives on a major traffic corridor,” Trott said.

TDOT said Interstate 40 runs 2,555 miles through eight states and has more miles in Tennessee than any other state, with 455. I-40 also provides access to 24 Tennessee counties.

TDOT will use message boards to remind motorists to drive safely and of the I-40 Challenge. The agency will also use its HELP trucks to assist motorists with vehicle trouble or to remove abandoned vehicles along the sides of the interstate.

None of last year’s eight traffic fatalities occurred on Interstate 40, officials noted.

Of those eight fatalities, three were alcohol-related. So far this year, the state is still on target to have the lowest number of alcohol-related traffic crashes in its history.

“To date, Tennessee has experienced the lowest number of traffic fatalities in November in the last four years. State law enforcement officials have also seen a nearly 8 percent decline in alcohol-related crashes this year, compared to this same time period last year,” state officials said in a news release.

Locally, Johnson City police will also be patrolling city streets and Interstate 26 to help reduce traffic crashes.

“We’ll be doing speed enforcement like we always do,” said Lt. Larry Williams, head of the department’s traffic squad.

And with the weather system that’s predicted for the area, Williams said motorists should take extra precautions while traveling for the holiday.

“Prepare and take extra time to reach your destination. The weather and heaving traffic conditions will slow you down,” Williams said.

He also said motorists should use “a little bit of common sense” while navigating through heavy traffic, especially during inclement weather.

Hevrdeys said even though the bulk of the storm will pass above East Tennessee, it’s still well on track to hit the region.

Press Staff Writer Tony Casey contributed to this story

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