Beltway saw crash-filled, rainy Thursday for tractor-trailers

Here’s the scene on the Outer Loop past Old Georgetown Road on Thursday, April 30, 2020. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

It was a crash-filled, rainy Thursday on the Capital Beltway, especially for tractor-trailers.

At least five tractor-trailer crashes — including two that ended with a jackknifed truck at the Outer Loop’s notorious “Big Curve” — happened on the Beltway in Maryland.

The first crash came shortly after 10 a.m., Maryland State Police said in a news release. A tractor-trailer on the Inner Loop at Route 355 crashed off the roadway and down an embankment. No other vehicles were involved, and the driver said he wasn’t injured.

Then, at about 1:15 p.m., troopers responded to another tractor-trailer crash on the Outer Loop of the Beltway at Bradley Boulevard, near the Interstate 270 spur — an area of the Beltway known as the “Big Curve.” The truck had run off the roadway and struck a jersey wall. A passenger in the truck was reported possibly injured. No other vehicles were involved in the crash, police said.

A jackknifed tractor-trailer blocks some lanes at the “Big Curve” on Thursday, April 30, 2020. (Courtesy Montgomery County Fire and Rescue)

The cleanup closed the left lanes of traffic for several hours.

Another crash involving a tractor-trailer was reported on the Outer Loop at Connecticut Avenue around the same time. That crash also involved a car, but no injuries were reported.

Minutes after the first wreck on the “Big Curve” cleared, a second truck crashed in the same location. That collision happened shortly after 4 p.m. The cleanup lasted well into the evening.

Then, another tractor-trailer crash happened on the Outer Loop past Old Georgetown Road — this one just a little before the Big Curve. The driver of a truck hauling produce was taken to the hospital with serious injuries according to Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesman Pete Piringer.

The Outer Loop remained closed late into Thursday evening while debris and fluids were cleared from the highway. Traffic was diverted from the Outer Loop onto Old Georgetown Road. Like the second, this one happened within a few minutes of when the previous crash cleared as traffic congestion was easing.

Police said speed appeared to be a factor in at least three crashes. No charges have been filed yet.

Thursday’s back-to-back crashes at the “Big Curve” bring the total number of incidents involving jackknifed or overturned trucks to 10 for that location since mid-March.

Just a week ago, a tractor-trailer jackknifed and damaged a section of the concrete wall. The southbound lanes of the I-270 Spur were closed for hours as the debris below the wreck was cleaned up.

A tractor-trailer crash on March 15, similar to last Thursday’s incident, penetrated the bridge’s wall and sent chucks of concrete onto the spur below.

About a week later, a truck driver lost control and jackknifed on the morning of March 23. The cleanup took hours to complete.

Two days later, a tractor-trailer wreck resulted in a large fuel spill and a HAZMAT response in the same location. At least one of that truck’s saddle tanks ruptured, spilling fuel on the highway.

On April 9, another tractor-trailer jackknifed around noon that day.

A few days later, on April 13, two trucks were involved in a pileup on the curve during the early morning hours. Later that day, another truck jackknifed shortly after noon as rain began to fall.

Just hours after highway crews completed repairs to the barrier damaged in last Thursday’s crash, two tractor trailers collided on the curve around 3 a.m. on April 24. According to Maryland State Police, one of the truck drivers failed to negotiate the left curve, which caused his truck to jackknife. One of the trucks caught on fire immediately after the collision.

In addition to those on the Big Curve, there have been several crashes involving trucks on the “smaller curve” of the Inner Loop near the I-270 spur.

On March 29, a truck reportedly hauling 78,000 pounds of frozen chicken overturned. Last week, a vacuum truck, or vactor, overturned in the right lanes.

This has historically been a troublesome spot since the “circumferential highway” was built in the 1960s. Of all the twists and turns on the Beltway in Montgomery County, this is one of the worst for truck crashes.

Lower traffic volumes and higher speeds during the pandemic has made this junction’s deficiencies even more apparent.

Numbers from the Maryland State Highway Administration show that traffic volumes on the Beltway near River Road, about a mile from the curve, have declined by more than half over the last two months. More than 247,000 trips normally take place on the corridor every day. Since the start of April, the number of trips has hovered around 100,000 per day.

Maryland State Police said troopers are conducting increased speeding enforcement on the Beltway in Montgomery County. Portable electronic signs with messages urging drivers to slow down have been placed on both shoulders of the Outer Loop within the last week.

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