A stretch of U.S. 81/287 in Decatur was known around the newsroom as Wise County’s Bermuda triangle.
Vehicles didn’t actually disappear, but every time it rained, a force seemed to pull trucks off the highway between Business U.S. 380 and the U.S. 380 exit.
It had been the site of numerous accidents the last two years, and at least one was fatal.
In March of 2012, a passenger in an 18-wheeler was killed when the northbound truck ran off the road, hit the culvert and flipped. It crashed through a guardrail and cracked open, spilling fruit along the highway.
Almost exactly one year later, in March of 2013, I covered an accident along that stretch that involved three 18-wheelers. One jackknifed on the highway and the other two ran off the east side of the highway, crashed through a fence below and landed in a lot belonging to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
By some miracle, no one was hurt.
During a rain shower this March, I covered an accident in South Wise only to return to Decatur and find a truck had jackknifed in the danger zone. It was no surprise, really. In fact, officers could be heard over the scanner when confirming the location, “In our usual spot?”
It had become commonplace.
Just one month later, on April 13, 2014, an Alvord man was seriously injured when a fuel tank hit his pickup after breaking loose from an out-of-control 18-wheeler along this stretch.
The northbound truck ran off the road, careening through the cement barriers separating the northbound and southbound lanes. The highway was shut down, and traffic had to be rerouted for the umpteenth time.
These are just a handful of the accidents that occurred in this area. It was truly a public hazard. Cars shouldn’t run off a particular stretch of roadway every time it rains. It simply shouldn’t happen.
Following the most recent wreck, the Messenger called TxDOT to find out if they were aware of how many accidents had occurred in this area or if perhaps this stretch was due for maintenance.
Since trucks had crashed through their fence on more than one occasion, it would seem to be hard to overlook.
Our request was vague. We didn’t know exactly what we were looking for – we just wanted to know why so many accidents occurred at this location.
We placed the call on April 15, and the public information officer was helpful, promising to look into the situation and call us back.
The next time we heard from her was a press release on April 16. It stated that northbound U.S. 81/287 in Decatur would be reduced to one lane between Business U.S. 380 and the U.S. 380 overpass for maintenance work to improve the traction along this stretch.
And just like that, it was done.
This week they closed lanes again to repair the barrier in the center median. This is likely the last of the roadwork needed to improve the safety of this stretch of roadway, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, with storms predicted for this weekend.
Kudos to TxDOT for taking immediate action instead of waiting around for a study or putting it on a project waiting list.
Their willingness to jump in and get it done will keep vehicles from sliding off the road and in turn, save lives.
Kristen Tribe is editor of the Messenger.