Special Report: Treacherous Roadways

Over the past three years, five people including two little girls have been killed in accidents inside one stretch of highway just about a mile long in Texoma.

It's the area of U.S. 287 around the truck stop southeast of Harrold in Wilbarger County.

Among those who are concerned, Congressman Mac Thornberry, who met with local officials about it.

In fact, he was almost in an accident there while traveling home for the Christmas holiday.

There is new reason for optimism, though.

Jorge Menendez is a truck driver out of Arkansas who passes through Wilbarger County on U.S. 287 often.

Menendez said the area surrounding the truck stop east of Harrold is not safe.

"It's really hard because it's too much traffic, and it's not safe.  We should put a light here.  Should put a red light so we can be on safety," Menendez said.

James Bell, who's driven through the Harrold area out of Dallas for about 15 years, agrees.

"Just the crossing itself is dangerous.  Even with the speed limit being 75 you know, that's dangerous.  If somebody gets hit at that speed, especially by a truck, it's probably going to be a fatality.  You've got to put a traffic light here or something." Bell said.

"We have been making massive upgrades to this whole area since the '80's," Adele Lewis, a public information officer with the Texas Department of Transportation, said.

Lewis says many safety improvements have been made since the truck stop reopened after the original was destroyed by fire in July, 2009.

Accidents keep happening, though.

"When they reopened in 2011, our first fatal was 2014.  That was a child crossing the road," Lewis said.

An 8-year-old girl was walking home to Harrold from the truck stop when she was hit by a semi truck.

Since that accident, another person was killed in 2015, and three others in three separate accidents in 2016, including another 8-year-old girl in December.

Since the new truck stop opened in 2011, there have been at least 34 accidents in that area overall.

DPS Public Information Officer, Sergeant Dan Buesing lost a Vernon classmate there in the mid- 80's, and he's worked many accidents since.

"The back to back fatalities last year were both passenger vehicles.  One was slow moving and the other was at regular highway speeds.  So, it goes from both spectrums, from the big 18 wheelers to the regular small cars."   "It's just a difference of circumstances for each crash, and unfortunately here in this area we've had too many," Buesing said.

After the fatalities last February and March, Lewis says TxDOT immediately installed deceleration lanes for traffic needing to enter the truck stop.

Then, more work was done a couple of months ago.

"We went ahead and installed rumble strips in November.  Also, in December, we improved some of the flashing lights, yellow lights that are on the signs, and we added more flashing yellow lights to our signs," Lewis said.

Now, construction on a $2,500,000 contract is set to begin this month with funds approved after tests by state engineers last Spring.

"People leaving the truck stop and wanting to go north on 287, there is a small acceleration area.  We're going to make that longer, wider, and more prominent."   "Anybody leaving the facility who wants to go southbound on 287, on the other side of the crossover, there will be an acceleration lane as well for those vehicles," Lewis said.

Lewis also added that besides adding sixteen new overhead lights to the four already installed, a left turn bay will be built for southbound traffic using the crossovers.

With all the improvements that have been made in recent years, like wider cross-overs for trucks and all the improvements that are about to be made, there are still those like Wilbarger County Sheriff Bill Price who believe a much bigger solution may be in order.

"You could build a road behind it. You could put it in the middle of two going highways.  Maybe even move it to an overpass that's closest to it, or maybe build an overpass right in- front of it," Price said.

Lewis added, "Everything is on the table, and we have considered it.  We have a similar location in Baylor County, and it cost about $15,000,000 to build those two bridges."

As far as building a road behind the truck stop, possibly from Highway 240 and County Road 125, the landowner says he's not interested in having a highway through his property.

He would, however, sell all his land to make it happen.

"I think they should just slow things down.  Drop the speed limit to 40 miles an hour and put some cops there, and they'll get the word," Anthony Gojmerac, landowner, said.

Gojmerac added that he would sell his property for one million dollars.

"The traffic, I have to put emergency when I'm pulling into the station, and when I'm pulling out, it's worse.  It's too dangerous here.  Too dangerous.  The traffic is too fast," Menendez said.

In what's proven to be a treacherous roadway in Texoma, the speed limit is now lowered to 65 from 75 for construction.

But, Lewis said TxDOT plans to go before the Texas Transportation Commission in the next couple of weeks to make a plea for that lower speed to become permanent.

In the meantime, TxDOT's plan is to complete the $2.5 million  worth of safety improvements, and then monitor  results they hope will show lives are being saved.

Lewis also said TxDOT has not ruled out making a frontage road between 287 and the truck stop, from the Highway 240 overpass to County Road 125, and then closing the crossing lanes.

It just has to be engineering-ly sound, and they'd have to find funding.

As far as what those with 7-Eleven want to see happen, the district manager says he also believes lowering the speed limit would be a good start.


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