HENDERSON — Directors for East Texas’ only toll road say they hope adding a safety feature will curb traffic violations blamed in past serious wrecks.
The Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority also purchased message boards to alert drivers on Toll 49, a toll road that serves mostly Smith County drivers but also those from Gregg and surrounding counties.
Under a pilot study approved unanimously by NETRMA directors, 28-inch-tall plastic sticks will be installed as median delineators on two locations of Toll 49 — a 1,000-foot section north of Interstate 20 and a 0.75-mile section south of I-20 and north of Texas 64.
Managers will monitor how well the sticks work on the road, the maintenance costs and whether they can prevent U-turn wrecks, RMA Project Director Everett Owen said.
“It’s not a permanent barrier,” Owen said, “but it’s the next step above rumble strips.”
Each of the sticks will be about 6 feet apart. Staff said the sticks could deter drivers crossing oncoming traffic and also U-turns from Toll 49 drivers who miss the exit onto I-20 and try to turn around by crossing oncoming traffic.
A two-vehicle crash in May that killed three people involved a driver who was traveling south on the road “for an undetermined reason and went into the northbound lane of traffic,” according to a Tyler Morning Telegraph report.
In June, NETRMA Executive Director Chris Miller said despite criticism painting Toll 49 as dangerous, a wave of serious and fatal wrecks on the road was determined to have been caused by distracted or inebriated driving, inclement weather or other outside factors.
Installation of the sticks is expected to cost about $40,000.
The agency chose the 28-inch-tall delineators rather than 48-inch-tall sticks to limit damage to vehicles that might run over them, staff said.
“It’s a great idea,” NETRMA board member Dave Spurrier of Longview said. “It’s just another idea the board is making to improve safety.”
Passing isn’t allowed on any section of Toll 49 except in designated areas.
The board also approved spending $96,016 to buy six digital message boards.
Miller said the boards can alert drivers about upcoming construction zones or relay other messages, including advising drivers to buy a toll tag.
In other business, the board heard results from a recent analysis of transponder and pay-by-mail customers of the RMA during a presentation from Craig Bettmann, senior vice president for the Cogensia firm.
Transponders, or drivers who use a TxTag, Toll Tag or other device to pay for using toll roads, make up two-thirds of all two-axle vehicles on Toll 49, while the remaining one-third are drivers who use the road and pay their toll later by mail.
Most transactions on Toll 49 in the past 12 months were by Smith County users — 37,706 transponders and 42,816 pay-by-mail, Bettmann said.
Gregg County had the second-most pay-by-mail users, with 7,280 transactions. It also has 2,137 transponder transactions in the past year, Bettmann said.