Wednesday, Nov. 29, marked the 18th anniversary of the loss of my stepdaughter, Sarah, who died in an automobile accident near DeKalb in Bowie County. She was just 23 years old with her whole future ahead of her, but lost her life in a one-vehicle rollover because she was trying to make it to work on time on a back county road.
In the years that have followed, I have sadly had to report on the loss of many lives way too soon due to car wrecks — some in areas where intervention could have led to prevention.
This includes the June 8 accident at the intersection of FM 304 and US 90 which killed truck driver Allen Groff, who sacrificed his own life by trying to minimize the collision his tractor-trailer had with another vehicle that failed to yield at the stop sign they had on FM 304.
The Texas Department of Transportation recognized how dangerous this intersection was and converted it in October to a four-way stop with flashing red lights both overhead and on the stop sign as well as adding warning lights prior to the intersection in order to make sure drivers were alerted. Sadly, it took Groff’s bravery and his passing for TxDOT to intervene four months later.
On the night of Wednesday, Nov. 29, as I was delivering newspapers to local post offices in Smiley, Nixon, Leesville, Luling and Waelder, I made the stop at that intersection as I usually do and said a silent prayer for Mr. Groff and his family as well as for my stepdaughter and for others who have died as well.
Before and after that, however, I passed by a pair of dangerous intersections in Gonzales County that also need intervention before more lives are needlessly lost due to a failure by authorities to do the right thing and make them safer. I am specifically referring to the intersection of Texas 97 with Texas 80 north of Nixon and the intersection of Texas 97 and FM 304 north of Gonzales.
Traffic on Texas 97 has a warning light on a sign prior to the intersection and a stop sign with a red flashing light attached, but there are no overhead lights, flashing or otherwise, to warn drivers as they approach the intersection either on Texas 97 or Texas 80.
Traffic on Texas 80 does not stop at all unless someone southbound is trying to turn left onto Texas 97, for which they do have a left turn lane — there is a dedicated right turn lane for Texas 80 south of the intersection which allows vehicles to merge onto Texas 97 without stopping.
Texas 80 and Texas 97 are both very important arteries for traffic for both the poultry industry and the natural gas industry. This means there are a great number of large trucks on the roadway at any given time, which increases the potential for deadly accidents at this intersection.
TxDOT is doing something to help out the flow of traffic on Texas 80 by earmarking more than $78 million in funding to revamp Texas 80 from the Guadalupe County line to FM 1681 into a Super 2 Highway, a two-lane rural highway in which a periodic passing lane has been added to allow faster vehicles to pass.
However, there has been no indication that TxDOT will make any changes to the Texas 80 and Texas 97 intersection similar to the four-way stop that was created at FM 304 and US 90.
While the Texas 80 intersection at least has a stop sign with a flashing light, there is no traffic assistance afforded to the Y intersection of FM 304 with Texas 97. This time it is traffic from Texas 97 which does not stop unless it is to turn onto FM 304 to head towards Bastrop.
Traffic from FM 304 has just a stop sign for those vehicles wishing to turn left onto Texas 97 to head towards Waelder, but vehicles headed towards Gonzales and wanting to merge onto Texas 97 have only a yield sign. There are no warning lights or flashing lights for drivers.
On trips to and from Bastrop and Waelder, I have seen several vehicles fail to yield or stop as necessary at the intersection, leading to some near accidents. It is only a matter of time before there is a major accident that claims a life there.
What will it take for TxDOT to create change and to address these intersections? Another needless death? Several? What is the cost we are willing to endure before action is taken?
The last thing I want to see is another family still suffering from tragedy 18 years later.