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Special Report: Traffic and housing during a boom

The outlook of the oil industry is trending upward and that has the city of Midland thinking optimistically about another boom. But are the city's roads ready for another round of people to come? And are there enough places for those people to live? NewsWest 9's Trevor Tankersley looks for answers in this Special Report.
Housing in Midland (Courtesy: KWES)

MIDLAND, TX (KWES) - Traffic.

"When you increase the amount of traffic, inevitably it's going to increase the amount of crashes that we see," said Officer Aaron Smith of the Midland Police Department.

And housing.

"A lot of it had to do with supply and demand at the time, " said Carroll Nall, MLS Member Services Director for the Permian Basin Board of Realtors.

Anyone who lived in Midland during the last boom knows these two issues plagued the community.

"We had a great deal of growth during that boom time," said Nall.

So what was at the core of those issues? Just how bad did it get? And are we more prepared for a boom this time around? Smith says traffic could be blamed on sheer numbers.

"When the price of oil goes up, our population goes up, and traffic counts go up," said Smith.

If you look at the crash data from 2010 to 2016, crashes rise and fall based on the boom, except for one year. As the boom took effect, crashes from 2010 through 2012 increased. 2013 was the outlier, which saw accidents decrease during the middle of the boom. That was only to be followed by a massive increase again in 2014.

And once the oil slowdown hit, 2015 and 2016 saw accidents decrease by double digit percentages. But police are noticing a slow uptick again.

"We're already starting to see those increases in traffic, more backups, more indications that things are starting to move again," said Smith.

"Certainly there's a lot of planning going on to find ways to get infrastructure improvements in place, to help reduce some of the traffic accidents," said Jose Ortiz, Engineering Services Director for the city of Midland.

Ortiz says another problem they ran into during the past boom was how fast it hit.

"What happens is when you're dealing with a boom, a lot of times it's difficult to get the funds in place quick enough to get those improvements in place," said Ortiz.

But officials haven't wasted any time preparing for the next wave, with many projects already done and other major ones in the works.

"We've put up some traffic signals at various places, we've changed some of the timing the way the signals work, and we're trying to do things to be a little better prepared," said Smith.

Medians and roundabouts have also been discussed instead of the typical five-lane cross section roads we mostly see in Midland. But their main focus is to improve areas that have been issues in the past, and Ortiz says he feels they're better prepared this time around should another boom hit.

"I think the coordination effort, the process we're going through with the Permian Basin MPO has been really beneficial in coordinating our efforts in trying to figure out which projects are a high priority in this region," said Ortiz.

For the housing industry, they share the same optimism should another boom hit.

"There's more product out there. There's also more apartments. We have places for people to live," said Nall.