A view of the overpass on I-20 where a state prison bus skidded off the road and landed on a passing train, apparently from icy conditions. (Tom Michael)
State authorities say icy roads likely caused Wednesday’s prison bus wreck just west of Odessa that killed 10 people when the bus ran off an I-20 overpass and hit a train.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the accident. Meanwhile, the wreck’s serving as a reminder of just how dangerous roads in the oil-rich region are even without winter weather.
Last summer, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) launched a campaign aimed at getting people to slow down on highways in the Permian Basin that have seen a huge increase in oil and gas truck traffic, and increases in traffic fatalities.
The push included chipper songs and homey videos with the message that industry is still your friend, but that it’s just making driving a little more dangerous.
“The trucks are getting bigger, and distractions they are too,” goes one of the jingles, “so you should pay attention before it gets too late – make sure to S – T – O – P at stop signs…”
Traffic deaths notably increased from 2012 to 2013, and while TxDOT attributes most of that to distractions and speed, the area’s roads are also getting a heavy beating.
Last year, a TxDOT-funded report from the Transportation Research Board found that the state’s roads simply might not be able to keep up with the impacts from industry.
After Wednesday’s wreck, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Sergeant Elizabeth Barney said these roads were simply not prepared for such a huge boom.
“This is an area that has a lot of fatalities,” she said. “It’s because the roadways are not built to hold this much traffic.”
The industry’s got a stake in the problem too, though.
The report says without better funding oil and gas operators simply won’t be able to use the roads they need to.