Traffic accidents are up 20 percent in Fort Worth this year, and if you take a drive on I-35W it’s easy to see why.
The traffic-clogged, construction-heavy corridor is home to nine of the city’s top 10 crash locations the last three years, according to statistics by the police department.
Capt. Daniel Humphries, the traffic division commander, said the overall increase in accidents is “absolutely” related to construction.
The police stats — which include top accident locations, causes and days they occurred from Jan. 1, 2013, through March 3 of this year — list Western Center Boulevard, Basswood Boulevard and Meacham Boulevard as the most accident-prone areas along I-35W.
Numbers at each of those locations “may be affected significantly” by construction, the stats note.
In all, Fort Worth had 9,862 traffic accidents through June 20 this year, compared to 8,194 during that time frame last year.
Fewer than 10 percent of the accidents this year — 948 — were in construction zones, but that’s up from 762 last year and 463 in 2014.
At any given time, several hundred workers are in the area north and south of Loop 820 on I-35W, some of them on foot using hand tools and others driving water trucks, excavators, road graders and other heavy equipment.
They see it all.
“We see a lot of distracted drivers out there,” Brandon McInnes, a worker for Houston-based contractor Brown and Gay Engineers, said on a recent afternoon during a break. “When you’re working right next to the traffic you see it all the time — people on smartphones, people putting on makeup, eating food.”
Workers have tried to make the I-35W area safer by installing signs warning motorists of places where work trucks will be entering and exiting the highway. It’s a common problem for motorists to accidentally follow gravel haulers and other vehicles turning into a work site, despite signs warning drivers not to follow construction trucks.
Speed limits have been lowered to 50 mph in the I-35W work zone “to not only protect workers but also the traveling public so that they can react safely to changing traffic patterns and conditions,” said Heather DeLapp, spokeswoman for North Tarrant Infrastructure, a lead contractor on the portion of I-35W construction from Loop 820 south to near downtown Fort Worth.
“We have placed speed monitors in the corridor to capture the attention of motorists as a reminder to slow down in the work zone,” she said.
DeLapp's company is part of a team known as NTE Mobility Partners, which is rebuilding I-35W from Interstate 30 near downtown Fort Worth to Loop 820. Simultaneously, the Texas Department of Transportation is rebuilding I-35W from Loop 820 to near Heritage Trace Parkway in the Alliance area.
In all, it’s about $1.6 billion worth of road work. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2018.
Distracted drivers, cones, add to mess
One driver said the combination of traffic, construction and distractions can make for a treacherous commute.
“I look over and some dude’s texting,” he said, “and I’ll honk and point at him like I’m his mother.”
In December, two people in a Ford Fusion were killed when their car was rear-ended by a Ford Explorer on I-35W at Heritage Trace Parkway. A month earlier, a 66-year-old man was killed in the same area when his car was hit from behind by a tanker truck near a construction zone.
Another complication for police is the stretches of construction cones and barriers that prevent officers from pulling over speeding drivers.
“The most difficult portion of it is if we try to do enforcement, there’s not a safe location to pull people over,” Capt. Humphries said. “And so if they see some activity and want to make the traffic stop, they sometimes have to wait three or five miles down the road before they can safely do it.”
Source: Fort-Worth Star-Telegram