Texas Lowers Speed Limit in Drilling Areas After Spike in Fatalities

Oil Tanker FireTxDOT Issues Emergency Rule to Address Increased Accident Rates

Along with the booming natural gas industry, Texas traffic accident rates have exploded. Texas traffic fatalities have risen even as other state’s rates have consistently continued to decline. Fortunately, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has decided to take action. Plans are underway to lower the speed limit in drilling areas, a move that could substantially reverse this undesirable trend.

51 Percent Increase in Commercial Vehicle Wreck Fatalities

Traffic deaths have risen in Texas by eight percent from 3,122 in 2009 to 3,378 in 2013, while traffic deaths declined in most other states. During the same period, deaths caused by commercial vehicle crashes rose by 51 percent from 352 to 532 in Texas. The major drilling regions of West and South Texas experienced a more than 240 percent spike in fatal commercial vehicle crashes in the same five-year period. The incredible spike in traffic deaths coincides with the heavy flow of thousands of tractor-trailers and drilling equipment travelling constantly to and from well sites and hauling gas, water and toxic drilling materials.

This urgent problem calls for an immediate solution. Therefore, the TxDOT is adopting an emergency rule that allows the agency to lower the speed limit by up to 12 mph within four weeks, as opposed to the several months typically required to change the speed limit through the regular review process.

Speed Limit Change Affects Oil Drilling and Transportation Routes in Texas

As with any other government action, raising the speed limit
usually involves a lengthy bureaucratic process and a time consuming
study. The situation is so dire that TxDOT is bypassing the full-blown
studies typically mandated to quickly lower the speed on roads with
higher than average accident rates under an emergency order. The
emergency order covers only two-lane, two way, rural roads that are
narrower than 24 feet and are part of the state highway system.

Although the department has not yet identified specific roads subject to the emergency order, the rule is likely to affect Eagle Ford Shale in Bee County, where the accident rate on its rural, two lane, two-way roadways is three times higher than the state average.

The TxDOT is proposing additional action, including converting drilling routes
from asphalt to gravel to slow the speed of large trucks. In addition,
the TxDOT has asked for an increase in spending on road repairs where
the increased use by heavy rigs has caused substantial damage, citing
poor road conditions as a contributing factor in the high number of
traffic deaths.

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