Wintry Mix and Spin

Ali and I headed to The Blue Horizon Restaurant (1174 Brooks Ave.) for breakfast. The place is definitely an ideal diner. Anyway, this morning it snowed a little — maybe an inch or so — and we didn't think it was a big deal, so we decided to drive out to check out gas fireplaces. Ali mentioned a place on Hudson [which I think is Fireplace Fashions (1936 Hudson Ave.)] and we also wanted to head out to Pettis Pools; the waitress helped us out and found the address in the phone book and we decided to try and find Pettis Pools and Patio (1186 Manitou Rd., Hilton) first.

We headed out on 390 and noted that we were at the Blue Horizon when the big car crash happened that closed it back in February of this year. I was driving the Roadmaster and when we got to the turn onto 490 West, I slowed way down, expecting that there might be ice as it was exactly 32°F outside. The turn was pretty clear, though … until I went to accelerate onto 490. The big wagon started fish-tailing but I managed to reel it back in and avoid either spinning out or hitting anyone else. The highway was pretty much wet with a slushy mix, but there was something wrong: there were dozens of cars spun out and off the road.

The mystery was solved on the first bridge we came to as the wagon fish-tailed a bit again. Since it was straight road and only for 50 yards or so, it wasn't hard to keep things under control.  We forged ahead, but saw more and more cars spun out. Apparently every single bridge was covered in solid ice, albeit giving the illusion that it was just more wet slush. We decided to give up our quest and get off at the next exit, but there was one more surprise.

A Honda Pilot started to go out of control in front of us on the next overpass.  It swerved left then swung right and ended up skidding sideways down the road and slamming into the right guardrail, coming to rest right in our lane.  Ali wanted me to stop, but I was on the icy bridge and was just barely touching the brakes until we cleared the overpass and I braked hard, stopping in time to avoid T-boning the poor guy.  The driver of the Pilot got it out of the way and I decided to just run over the piece of plastic bumper laying in the road.  Unfortunately it was dragging under the car.  Fortunately we ran it over when I got onto the shoulder and we got the hell out of there.

We were passed by a car going far too fast and then likewise by a charter bus (which was also half into our lane, the prick).  The exit to Rt. 386 was next and I couldn't bear to watch the bus careen across that overpass — and, naturally, also couldn't avoid watching.  However, they successfully slowed down for the cars that had already spun out.  The trip home was much slower and safer — amusingly taking us right past the Blue Horizon once again.

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Breakfast at Blue Horizon and Driving the Wrong Way on 390

Ali and I had a late breakfast at The Blue Horizon Restaurant (1174 Brooks Ave.) As diners go, this is one of the best: of late my number one qualification is that my coffee stays full — and not only did it not get empty, it barely hit the halfway mark. The food is good diner-grade food and the prices are low diner-grade prices.

We left around 1 or so and on the way home I thought, "I should just take Brooks Avenue" but I got on 390 anyway. As I was getting on the ramp, I saw that traffic was at a standstill. We got in line anyway, figuring it would clear up. However, a steady stream of emergency vehicles kept coming. Some cars behind us rushed ahead to get to the second lane, but we were in no hurry and didn't mind being one of the last ones through. State Police closed 390 at Brooks behind us and were directing all traffic off the highway. A State Police officer started having cars entering at the exit turn around and drive the wrong way up 390 then turn off on the exit. We followed suit. It's the only time I've ever driven the wrong way on the highway. It was wild — it made me feel all sophisticated like I was driving on The M1 or something.

We decided to see what happened so we got back on at Mt. Hope but traffic ground to a halt around Scottsville Rd. Police were directing all traffic off the highway at that point as well, but we could see a multiple-car pileup — rubbernecking, we saw at least 6 cars involved. The hill formed by the new tunnel under the runway for the Scottsville Road access road had caused drifting snow to form a whiteout and had coated the road with snow. As it turned out, there were way more than 6 cars involved: 36 in all. As you've probably heard on the news, one young girl got killed and there were about 20 people taken to the hospitals with various degrees of injuries. The accident was apparently caused by a driver who stopped in the middle of the white-out.

People say the "cause" was the driver who stopped, but that was just the final straw. A whiteout totally sucks and there's no ideal solution. Initial wisdom says that if you can't see, stop, but it's also a highway, so you don't stop. Second best is to proceed slowly. In my opinion, that means very slowly compared to highway speeds (i.e. 20-30 miles-per-hour) but judging by the damage to cars, it appears that people scarcely took their foot off the accelerator and instead plowed into whatever was in front of them at full-bore. Then again, it was clear skies and dry roads right up to the bend, so only the properly attentive drivers even had a chance.

I also think it's interesting that nobody faults the airport. If it were a private residence and they had put up a privacy wall, they'd have hell to pay. But because the airport presumably wanted to extend a runway to accommodate larger planes, it's all good — dead girl and all. I'm not so much advocating suing the airport, but I'd like to see a fair assessment. Rather than let it slide with a passive-voiced "the conditions were dangerous," I think it's important to realize that prior to this construction project, this was not an issue. And as such, to determine if there is something that can be done to change the structure of the tunnel to prevent these kind of conditions from forming again.

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