NewsWest 9 Special Report: Deadly Roads in the Permian Basin - Part II

NewsWest 9 Special Report: Deadly Roads in the Permian Basin - Part II
By Stephanie Mills
Newswest 9

MIDLAND/ODESSA - We continue to address the issue of fatal accidents and the causes behind them here in the Permian Basin. TX-DOT, MOTRAN and many local officials have explained what is truly involved in these wrecks. 

James Beauchamp with MOTRAN says, "The thing I would say is dangers on roadways is not just someone has a single gun. You are facing an army, a whole line of them and different factors is what makes it so deadly."

There are many factors involved in an accident. The common things you hear about are DWI's, speeding, driver inattention, drivers frustration due to things like construction or other drivers. There is also the problem with many not giving themselves enough time to get to their destination so they get in a hurry.

Beauchamp said, "We are good ole West Texans and most of us who have lived in the Permian Basin most of our lives can remember a time when you could go from my house in Midland to Ector County and to Odessa, I could get there in about 20 minutes. That doesn't happen anymore. I have to have about 40 minutes."

From 2009 to 2012, the Permian Basin has seen more than 34,000 new registered vehicles - that only includes those who bother to go down to get the registration.

James says another factor for these crashes are the underdeveloped roadways unable to accommodate the oil boom.

James states, "There are a lot more people on the road, driving a lot further, higher traffic counts as a result of that on a lot of these roadways. A lot of them are being pushed to constraint. A lot of drivers are doing things that are unsafe. Add all together along with that underdeveloped roadway system. Really what it is, is you get a perfect combination that you are going to see more crashes and fatalities."

So, what is being done to the roads?

Gene Powell with with Texas Department of Transportation says they are working on several projects to improve the road infrastructure.

"We recently signed a contract to improve the intersection of Highway 385 and North Loop 338. Widen the intersection some and put signal lights there. In March, there will be a bid opening to improve Loop 338 from Yukon to Highway 385 for four lane divided road. That is obviously something that will be an improvement," Powell said.

They are also looking at widening TX Highway 349 from Midland to the Dawson County line and also passing lanes on that road south of Midland. These are just a few of the projects in the works.

When it comes to construction, though, funding is also a topic of discussion. Powell says funding from the state is a big part of every decision they make and usually they have to work with a tight budget.

Powell has a more personal connection to the road issue, "My mother died in a car wreck nearly five years ago. Being able to be in this position and talk to people about wearing seat belts and not drinking and driving and not texting and driving and pay attention to stop signs. Hopefully, we are making a difference out there."

Steve LeSueur with the Odessa Police Department, said, "I witnessed several accidents on 42nd Street on patrol. It is a dangerous street. It is dangerous because it's busy. Accidents are tough to go to and it's even sadder when they could have been prevented."

In just the past five years, the Permian Basin and surrounding areas have doubled or even tripled their population. The issue of roadways and funding is an ongoing problem and is not going to be resolved overnight. But as we continue to deal with these problems, we all have to take responsibility for our actions behind the wheel.

Aaron Smith, with the Midland Police Department Traffic Division, says, "Every intersection you come to, everything you're doing, pretend family in front of you. Would you drive like that knowing your family is at the next intersection. I think if we'll think about that and slow ourselves down and pay attention. In given time, we can reduce it."