Two fire chiefs and a Highway Patrol sergeant met with a Texas Department of Transportation representative on Tuesday to discuss a deadly stretch of SH 242 and what might be done to reduce accidents.
Needham Fire Rescue Chief Kevin Hosler arranged the meeting, which included River Plantation Fire Department Chief Randy Oliver, Sgt. Terry Barnhill with the Texas Department of Public Safety and Karen G. Baker, Area Engineer for TxDOT Montgomery County.
Hosler, Oliver and Barnhill are all too familiar with a curve in SH 242 just east of the San Jacinto River Bridge, where Hosler could quickly recall six fatalities. Most were head-on collisions and Barnhill said he could not recall weather playing a role in any of the wrecks. The curve is marked by crosses on the side of the road, but little else. There are no structures or lights of any kind. It is not a sharp curve, but by all accounts the most dangerous part of the heavily traveled road where so many people tend to speed.
Hosler told Baker he recently parked near the curve, well off of the road so as not to be a distraction, and watched traffic for about 45 minutes.
“One of every four or five cars get distracted the least bit and they’re crossing that line,” he said.
Some people were talking on cell phones or otherwise distracted, Hosler said. In one case, an 18-wheeler had crossed the center line and a car in the oncoming lane had to move to the shoulder to avoid a collision before the big rig’s driver noticed he was driving on the wrong side of the road.
Oliver said he drives the road daily and is always in defensive mode when he reaches that curve. He and Hosler said when a wreck is dispatched at that location, both departments usually respond because they know it will probably be a major accident.
Sgt. Barnhill theorized that part of the problem might be the long straightaway before the curve, having people used to going in a very straight path and then if they are not paying close attention, they continue to go straight when they reach the curve.
It was also mentioned that many of the major accidents in that location occur at night which could be partially attributed to less traffic allowing drivers to reach higher speeds before reaching the curve and to the lack of illumination.
Baker had already examined the curve through aerial photographs and said “geometrically” there is nothing wrong with the curve.
“It’s a long and sweeping curve, as opposed to some really sharp curves on other roadways,” she said.
A number of possible solutions were discussed including rumble strips, which were favored by the chiefs and sergeant.
Baker said rumble strips are typically created when the hot mix is laid, but it might be possible to mill them. She said funding is always an issue, but she plans to pull the crash records and discuss the matter with the TxDOT traffic section.
Rumble strips along the center were suggested and Baker said she would look into that possibility, but Barnhill said strips on the shoulder would also be nice, considering the bicycle fatality that occurred earlier this year. The driver of the motor vehicle was believed to either be texting or reading a text message and Barnhill said rumble strips on the side of the road might have given him a chance to correct before he struck the bicycle. While there has not been a rash of bicycle fatalities, he said an increasing number of cyclists are riding on the shoulders of SH 242.
Barnhill assured Baker, should TxDOT work to solve the problem, he would see to it law enforcement assistance was provided for traffic control. Hosler said his department, which is west of the river bridge on SH 242, would help in any way they could.
“If we don’t get proactive and try to do something, I don’t see the problem with our accidents in that curve going away,” Hosler said. “It’s just going to be a matter of time before we have another one.”