Early on the morning of February 11, 2021, an illuminated road sign on Interstate 35W in Fort Worth sternly warned:
“ICE CONDITIONS EXIST / PLEASE BE CAREFUL.”
Less than three hours after the announcement, more than 130 vehicles and semi-trailers skidded onto icy toll roads in one of the deadliest crashes in US history.
There was nowhere to go, and the cars crowded together, scattering more than 1,100 feet along the highway. Six people died and more than 60 were injured.
New details about the plane crash emerged on Wednesday following the release of 1,400 pages of documents related to the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation.
The report includes interviews with witnesses and first responders, details about vehicle speeds and road conditions in the days and hours leading up to the crash. However, he does not offer any conclusions about the probable cause of the crash, the investigator’s conclusions or recommendations.
Rep. Ramon Romero, a Democrat from Fort Worth whose county includes the area around the crash site, said Wednesday that much remains unknown about the attack and demanded more details from the NTSB.
Romero pushed for the removal of the concrete barrier that separates the toll lanes from the public lanes on the right, which he believes may have contributed to the crash’s death toll. The barriers also separate the toll lanes from northbound traffic on the left, leaving moving vehicles with nowhere to go.
“We want to know that our roads are safe and that this won’t happen again,” Romero said. “We don’t know yet.
The accident occurred during the initial stages of a devastating 2021 winter storm, just days before much of Texas lost power and water.
The report said that in preparation for the freeze, North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners, a private company that operates the highway, treated the roads with brine. After a small collision on the morning of February 11, repair crews worked the lanes again, less than two hours before the collision.
According to one document, about 15 minutes before the crash, the average speed was 65 mph in the right lane and 82 mph in the left lane. The speed limit is 75 miles per hour.
Fort Worth Mayor Matty Parker on Wednesday declined to comment on the documents through a city spokesperson, saying she did not have a chance to review them.
A final report with probable cause and recommendations is expected this spring, an NTSB spokesman said.
For now, Romero said he encourages drivers to avoid these toll lanes when there is a threat of frost.
“It’s a dangerous road any time there’s frost,” he said. “It will happen again if conditions are similar.”