Oil Town Roadways Are More Dangerous Than Ever

Improvements and enforcement aren’t coming fast enough.

By Alain StephensJuly 10, 2015 7:55 am

If you live near the Eagle Ford Shale you may have heard an ad from the Texas Department of Transportation warning drivers in the area to be extra cautious on the roadways.

It’s part of a campaign called “Be Safe, Drive Smart.” Roadways aren’t like they used to be. Before the shale oil boom, the 26 counties that make up the Eagle Ford were small, bucolic places – country roads, few cars.

Now, not so much.

“Oil equipment vehicles moving around – those vehicles are usually bigger and heavier, so if you make contact with them they it could be a lot more injurious for motorists,” TxDOT’s Mark Cross says. “So if you pay attention to all those things, obey all the traffic laws, and give trucks plenty of space to move around … If you have to pass a vehicle it’s important to do so very carefully.”

But some residents in the Eagle Ford Shale say driving here is too dangerous – the risks are deadly. The ads aren’t going to fix that. And right now, neither are the people in charge. Larry Dovalina is the administrator for the town of Cotulla.

“We had one DPS unit in the entire community – and the fact that our long term strategy is probably focused on the border and people in the shale have been abandoned,” Dovalina explains. “So they typically take the agents assigned here and they transfer them to the border. So they expose the local communities to lack of enforcement.”

In a written statement, DPS told Texas Standard that troopers are deployed in border operations only on a limited basis. And that a large number of agencies are responsible for policing the roadways – not just DPS.

TxDOT hoped to alleviate some of the problems by introducing a $500 million plan to repair and expand roadways. But in towns where the shale boom has brought travel nightmares, improvements can’t come soon enough.