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N.C. DOT: No safety changes needed at site of fatal I-485 truck wreck

By Hilary Trenda and Steve Harrison
sharrison@charlotteobserver.com

After Thursday’s fatal accident on Interstate 485 in which a dump truck struck a concrete construction barrier, the N.C. Department of Transportation said the work zone is safe and no added signs or warnings are needed.

The DOT is widening I-485 in south Charlotte and has installed temporary concrete barriers to protect workers adding new lanes in the median of the highway.

To allow worker access to the median, there are several points along the I-485 work site in which the concrete barriers shift, creating a short off-ramp for construction vehicles. The concrete barriers then begin again to shield the work site from vehicles.

For motorists who aren’t paying attention, the work site’s temporary off-ramps could be confused with the opening of a third lane of highway.

On Thursday around 8:30 a.m., a dump truck driven by Bobby Joe Hunt, 54, of Rock Hill struck a crash attenuator in place just after a temporary off-ramp for construction vehicles on the outer belt before Johnston Road. The truck flipped and burst into flames, killing Hunt.

It’s unclear what Hunt did in the moments before the crash. It’s unknown whether he had moved into the construction off-ramp believing it was a new lane for vehicles or whether he simply lost control of his truck.

The N.C. Highway Patrol, which the state said is investigating the accident, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

Jen Thompson of the N.C. DOT said the traffic control plan for the work site was created using federal guidelines and approved by a work zone safety unit in Raleigh. She said the concrete barriers and crash attenuators are the responsibility of the contractor, Lane Construction.

She said the crash attenuator is meant to fold like an accordion in case a vehicle strikes it. “It’s designed to minimize the impact,” she said.

Thompson said there was a shoulder on the right side of the interstate that the driver could have used if he needed to pull over. She said the DOT has no plans to put up removable signs or cones that would warn motorists that the temporary off-ramp is not a general-purpose lane.

The speed limit for the work zone had already been reduced to 55 mph, she said. There also is a solid yellow line on the outside of the left-hand lane, meant to tell drivers not to cross it.

“To my knowledge, there is nothing we will revise or change,” Thompson said. “We checked everything yesterday.”

“It’s a horrible situation,” she said. “I don’t know if there is anything we could have done.”

Lane Construction’s Charlotte office referred media calls to its Connecticut office. The company referred all questions to the N.C. DOT.

The accident closed the outer loop of I-485 for several hours Thursday. N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper John Burgin said Thursday that Hunt wasn’t working on the construction site.

The truck was owned by TNT Trucking of York County, S.C., according to WSOC-TV. TNT couldn’t be reached for comment.

The state is widening I-485 from Interstate 77 to Rea Road from four lanes to six lanes. That section of highway is one of the most congested in the state, carrying 120,000 vehicles a day. The project is expected to be finished by December 2014.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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