America’s thirst for oil has transformed numerous communities across the U.S., but perhaps none has been so greatly affected as Texas. Since the Gusher Age of the early 1900’s, Texas has been home to massive oil drilling. By 1940, Texas came to dominate U.S. oil production. Along with the onset of the oil boom, a transformation occurred in Texas. The once rural state became heavily industrialized, with cities such as Houston growing astronomically as they became wealthy refining the harvested oil. By the 1980’s, as global oil prices tumbled, production slowed across the state.
Today, Texas, and in particular south Texas, is undergoing another oil boom, one that some believe may be even larger than the initial boom in 1901. By 2014, Texas is expected to bypass oil rich counties such as Venezuela, Mexico, Iraq, and Kuwait to become the ninth largest oil producer worldwide. In the Eagle Ford Shale area of south Texas, oil companies are expected to spend $100 billion on drilling this year. The area is attracting more investors than another other oil field in the world. Already, with the addition of over 1,000 new wells, the region has produced more than 352 million barrels of oil so far. The current oil boom is once again transforming the Texas towns in its wake, and one of the primary areas impacted is traffic and road conditions.
Small Rural Roads Now Congested with Traffic and Heavy Trucks Causing Deterioration
South Texas has traditionally been a poverty stricken corner of the state with very little industry and development. All this has changed with the advent of the current oil boom. The city of Cotulla can be used to highlight the drastic alteration. Cotulla, once described by Lady Bird Johnson as one of the crummiest towns in Texas, has tripled in population in just the last few years and grown tremendously in wealth. Between 2008 and 2012, sales tax receipts went from $400,000 to an astonishing $3 million. The property tax base was similarly altered, going from $52 million to $137 million.
While many south Texan’s lives have been positively transformed by the oil boom, new hazards have emerged. As the population has increased dramatically, roadways designed to accommodate far fewer have become home to an alarming number of car accidents. A recent report released by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) looked at accident incidences in the Eagle Ford Shale region. It found that car accident fatalities had risen 40%, up from 177 in 2011 to 248 today. Nearly two-thirds of those involved in accidents were male. More accidents occurred between 4 and 6 p.m. than any other time of day.
The division director of traffic operations explained that the uptick in accidents is largely attributable to small roads clogged with more traffic. With the oil boom, roads that used to carry about 200 vehicles a day now have upwards of 2,400 cars and trucks traveling on them. Further, the area is now traversed by a multitude of commercial vehicles, many weighing over 80,000 pounds. In the counties of Dimmit, La Salle, and Karnes, commercial truck accidents are up an astronomical 1,000 percent.
In addition to lacking the roadway infrastructure to accommodate the increased oil boom traffic, many south Texas towns do not have the emergency responders necessary to handle the high number of accidents. In La Salle County, there are only 3 or 4 EMS responders. As can be imagined, response times to accidents are far longer than in larger cities, costing many lives.
On rural roads, drivers tend to speed and let their guard down. Rural Texas towns lack the patrol cars to man every roadway, and numerous reports of large trucks passing passenger vehicles on dangerous hills or running cars off the road have emerged.
Aside from dangerous new traffic conditions, the oil boom has lead to deteriorating road conditions, also said to be a catalyst for the increase in car accidents. The rural roads in south Texas were never designed to handle the weight of the thousands of massive trucks now regularly traveling throughout the region. This has lead to potholes, splintering shoulders, and cracked asphalt. TxDOT shocked local residents when it recently announced that an 83 mile farm-to-market road in the center of the oil boom would be converted to gravel due to extensive road damage. Outraged community members attempted to halt the conversion, but absent a more viable option, officials have begun the graveling.
So Who’s to Blame for the Creation of These Unsafe Road Conditions?
While it would be easy to place the culpability for the rise in accidents and the newly congested roadways solely on the oil industry giants, one must look further into the problem for a better understanding. The oil boom has produced a windfall for the state of Texas, but not necessarily for the towns involved. While county tax receipts are up, they do not cover the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to repair roadways. Further, much of the money produced by the drilling is making its way to Austin, while the Eagle Ford Shale region has received just a small fraction of the funds it requested to repair its badly damaged roads. The state has not provided monies for the hiring of new EMS workers or building of new hospitals, which would save many lives lost to traffic accidents. Further, the underfunded transportation department has been unable to engage in vital infrastructure redevelopment like widening roadways, installing new street lights, and increasing patrolmen.
Currently, TxDOT receives funding from gas taxes. It does not collect any percentage of the state’s severance tax on oil production. A constitutional amendment slated to be put to the vote in 2014 may change that. If approved by voters, the amendment will provide a portion of the state’s severance tax on oil and gas to repair roadways.
Helping Those Injured in Car and Truck Accidents Throughout Texas
In representing accident victims for over two decades, Tate Law Offices, P.C., has witnessed the road hazards that accompany an oil boom. Tate Law Offices strives above of all else to see its injured clients fully recover. We have a reputation for unmatched excellence of service and unparalleled passion for the field of personal injury law. With offices in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and Sheman, our firm offers exemplary representation to the entire state of Texas. Call us today at 888-662-3892 to schedule a free consultation.