Most days, this newspaper carries reports of lives lost on highways across East Texas. Some of those stories are about deadly collisions. Others are about pedestrians hit and killed by vehicles.
Such incidents are far too common, here and statewide.
So we were gratified by news the Texas Department of Transportation is stepping up with a plan to reduce highway fatalities in Texas, which leads the nation in automobile-related deaths.
To begin reducing that toll, the state highway department has proposed spending an unprecedented $300 million in each of the next two years on a variety of projects.
It calls for spending $390 million, 65 percent of the total safety money set aside by the Texas Transportation Commission, to straighten roads, add guardrails and improve lighting. That work aims to reduce incidents in which drivers veer from the roadway. Though causes vary, such “departure incidents” represented 41% of the serious and fatal injury crashes in Texas last year.
Another $60 million of the total would go to pedestrian improvements, which account for 21% of roadway fatalities statewide and are far too common in Longview and the area.
The funds are included in TxDOT’s $76.2 billion 10-year Unified Transportation Program, which transportation commissioners are set to approve this month.
At 4.5 percent of the total, safety is a relatively small part of the overall proposal, which is divided into 13 categories. The four largest — maintenance, growth in urban corridors, statewide connectivity and strategic priorities — make up more than half of the total. That is as it should be. Texas highways, while still good, have fallen behind both in needed capacity and maintenance.
Because of smart, cooperative work by leaders in Gregg County, Longview and the area in securing funds for roads projects, East Texas has fared better than many other parts of the state in building and maintaining roads. But as the daily news reports indicate, there is work to be done on safety here, as well.
We agree with what transportation commission Chairman Bruce Bugg said of the plan, as reported by the Houston Chronicle: “If the $600 million is spent wisely and it does affect the goal we have set for ourselves, it would be the best $600 million we ever spent.”
And we hope Jay Blazek Crossley, executive director of the non-profit Farm & City, which advocates for transportation safety in Texas, is right about the funding. “We have dramatically under-invested in transportation safety for awhile,” he told the Chronicle. “Every dollar proposed of this $600 million will have way more bang for the buck than every other dollar in the (Unified Transportation Program.)”
We firmly believe individual drivers bear most responsibility for safety, but know outdated, ill-maintained and crowded highways also play a role. So we encourage all drivers to observe safety rules while commending the state for doing its part with this financial commitment.
The long-term goals, set by state transportation commissioners for TxDOT, is to cut Texas’ roadway fatalities in half by 2035 — and to achieve zero driving-related deaths by 2050.
We appreciate that stretch goal, and truly hope for a day the News-Journal no longer must tell so many stories of lives lost on Texas highways.