You’re stuck in traffic for hours with no real food, no drink and no clear timetable of when you’ll get home. What would you do? One Charlotte-area resident live-tweeted his traffic survival story.

A lot of “tired, stressed, cranky and hungry people” waited over six hours for traffic to clear up southbound on Interstate 85 near Spartanburg, S.C., Tom Gardner of Mooresville said in a video he posted on Twitter Saturday evening.

In the 35-second clip, Gardner and other drivers are standing along the highway’s median barriers.

“Nobody has contacted us, and nobody has told us what’s going on,” Gardner said in the video.

Trooper Joel Hovis tweeted at 4:27 p.m., about two hours before Gardner’s video, that South Carolina Highway Patrol was working on five collisions on I-85 between mile markers 91 and 86 in Cherokee County. Hovis’ tweet warned drivers of roadway blockage at mile marker 86 northbound and “several spots” in the southbound lane.


A trip to the in-laws

Gardner, his wife and their 8-year-old daughter were traveling south to visit his mother-in-law in Spartanburg until traffic came to an “abrupt stop,” he told the Observer on Monday.

“I was hopeful it would be less than an hour,” said Gardner, who teaches political science at Chamberlain University, an Illinois-based nursing school with a Charlotte location.

At 12:11 p.m., an hour into traffic, Gardner tweeted at the South Carolina Department of Transportation’s Piedmont Region for an update on a crash reported an hour earlier on southbound I-85. SCDOT did not respond.

At 2:14 p.m., now three hours into traffic, Gardner tweeted at SCDOT again for an update. Again, no response.

Tom Gardner’s tweets on Saturday, May 1, 2021

Gardner’s wife then called her mother to pick up her and their daughter at the front of the road where the blockage began — leaving him alone in the car with three water bottles, a cake pop from Starbucks and his daughter’s leftover peanut butter crackers, he said.

Story continues

“When I got off the freeway, I pretty much stopped and grabbed some food immediately,” Gardner said.

If someone had to be stuck on the freeway for seven hours, Gardner said Saturday’s weather of 68 degrees and sunny would be ideal. He and others even turned off their vehicles for a while.

“It was warm outside, but people weren’t dying,” he said. “I never went below half a tank [of gas].”

Gardner said he and about 10 other drivers would get out of their cars, sit around and talk while they waited for traffic to clear. He said people would walk to the front of the traffic and come back 40 minutes later with updates.

“Everybody really did come together and was showing kindness and patience,” Gardner said. “We were all tired and cranky, but nobody was threatening anybody or losing their tempers.”

After a couple more tweets to the SCDOT Piedmont Region, and six hours in traffic, Gardner recorded his video. He tweeted two hours after the video that he and the other drivers were stuck in traffic for seven hours total.

‘A busy Saturday’

Hovis, the S.C. trooper, told the Observer on Monday that four of the collisions were in the southbound lane, where Gardner filmed the video; the fifth incident happened in the northbound lane. Motorists involved in the collisions suffered injuries but none life-threatening, Hovis said.

“It was very challenging for a lot of people coming through there,” Hovis said. “When you have a collision, especially when there’s injuries, it takes a while to work it. First and foremost, priority are those folks that are hurt, and then you have to worry about clearing the lanes so traffic can flow.”

Construction to widen I-85 in Cherokee and Spartanburg counties, from mile marker 77 to the North Carolina line, is expected to last well into 2021, according to SCDOT.

Hovis said he doesn’t know if construction work contributed to the traffic on Saturday because he doesn’t remember how many people were working on the highway at that time.

“It was a busy Saturday in Cherokee County,” he said.

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