Late yesterday, the Texas Senate issued a summary of sorts of the Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security's public hearing in Arlington on Thursday, during which everything from drought to driving was on the agenda. Of course, Rosemary Miramontes's testimony, concerning her son's accident in an HOV lane on I-35E in '07 that left him paralyzed, garnered the most coverage; some officials, concerned about the dramatic rise in crash rates since the opening of HOV lanes on 35, LBJ Freeway and N. Central Expressway, are considering proposing an overall overhaul.
To that end, the official release is interesting for including the following exchange between state Sen. John Carona, chair of the committee, and John Barton, the Texas Department of Transportation's assistant executive director:
According to Miramontes, the number of accidents jumped from about 250 to approximately 400 on one stretch of road, due to the installation of the lanes. She told the committee that the lanes were squeezed into older expressways, where there was barely enough room for the existing lanes and should either be fixed or eliminated. Committee Chairman Corona called on local officials to explain why the accident rate had apparently jumped so far.
John Barton, Assistant Executive Director for TxDOT, told the committee that the lanes were installed in an effort to use the roadways in the most efficient manner and were effective in cutting emissions. He said that the lanes are sometimes separated from the rest of the highway by pylons or in some places, only painted stripes, such as in the place where Miramontes' son was severely injured. Those rubber pylons that mark the lanes have also been locally criticized as inadequate, but Barton said they met all current standards and had reduced what he called the "crash rate" on U.S. 75.
Chairman Carona said that his personal experience showed that pylons are not properly maintained, that many are missing and they have not been replaced for "many, many months". DART officials said pylons are replaced on a weekly basis. Chairman Carona asked, "So there'll be a truck out there replacing pylons when?" Local TxDOT officials responded they would be out there "this week or next" and that the new ones would be "tougher". The Chairman asked if these lanes were narrower than others across the state and were an unsafe design. Barton responded that the pylons were designed to keep cars out of the lanes and that concrete barriers would trap motorists in the lane in case of accidents. Chairman Carona said the "worst danger" appears when you have pylons in place but due to poor maintenance gaps appear, and those gaps actually encourage motorists to illegally enter the HOV lane. He was assured that maintenance would be improved. Carona said this was a "hometown issue" that the committee would be "watching closely...that the bright light will be on you."