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DeWitt County officials, residents discuss increased oil industry traffic, concerns

By Sonny Long
Nov. 18, 2011 at 11:18 a.m.

Jode Zavesky

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DeWitt County meeting about road conditions

DeWitt County hosted a meeting Friday for persons and agencies concerned about the increase in traffic and road conditions revolving around the Eagle Ford Shale activity.

NUMBER OF PERMITS IS PROOF

"From conversations I am having with industry officials, we can expect 300 to 350 permits per year perhaps for the next 10 years," DeWitt County Judge Daryl Fowler said during Friday's meeting in Cuero. "Year to date there have been over 300 drilling permits issued in DeWitt County. That's up from 125 in the calendar year 2010 and up from 69 average annual permits in the previous decade."

Fowler is a member of the Texas Railroad Commission's Eagle Ford Shale Task Force.

CUERO - Farm-to-market roads weren't built to handle the heavy truck traffic that Eagle Ford Shale exploration has brought to South Texas.

That was among the messages that Brian Schoenemann, area engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation, brought to a meeting of people interested in how the increase in the oil and gas business in the Crossroads is affecting traffic congestion, traffic safety and road conditions.

"What we're seeing is accelerated deterioration of our roadways. Our rural FM system was not built to maintain the truck traffic that we are experiencing," Schoenemann said. "DeWitt County is probably the worst. We're seeing about a 40-percent increase in traffic, the majority being large 18-wheeler type vehicles. With this oil field traffic, trucks are wider and heavier."

Schoenemann said the department of transportation has several projects in the works for DeWitt County including plans to upgrade and beef up sections of Farm-to-Market Road 952 in the Cotton Patch community.

"We'd like to add shoulders on state Highway 72," the area engineer added. "According to our traffic counts, Highway 72 is now seeing more traffic than (U.S.) Highway 87."

"The western side of this county is inundated with road deterioration," Schoenemann said.

Schoenemann said traffic congestion is also being looked at and a project will be starting soon to install a traffic signal at the intersection of U.S. Highway 183 (Esplanade Street) and state Highway 72 (West Heaton Street) in Cuero. The intersection has a flashing yellow signal.

He said options are also being studied to ease congestion at state Highway 72 and U.S. Highway 87.

The transportation department was among several agencies that took part in the meeting at the DeWitt County Courthouse.

Also taking part were the Texas Department of Public Safety Highway Patrol and Commercial Vehicle Enforcement, DeWitt County Sheriff's Office, the Cuero Police Department, city of Nordheim, city of Yorktown and Yorktown Police Department, and the DeWitt County judge's office.

ENFORCEMENT

Cuero Police Capt. Steven Ellis said the department has written about 700 more citations this year than last.

"We have ramped up our enforcement," Ellis said. "We're doing everything we can."

DPS Sgt. Mike Cantu, stationed in Cuero, said so far in 2011, 28 traffic crashes in unincorporated areas of DeWitt County have involved big commercial trucks.

"In 2008, we had 13. In 2009, we had seven. Last year, we had 26. We do have an increase in truck-tractor traffic and we have seen an increase in these crashes," he said.

Cantu said DPS works with local law enforcement agencies on task forces to target problem areas.

"We're doing the best we can with what we've got," he said, citing manpower issues as a concern for all law enforcement agencies.

"It's complaint driven," said DeWitt County Sheriff Jode Zavesky, who organized the meeting.

The sheriff said his department has also received a $30,000 grant for overtime for deputies.

"We're putting more boots on the ground just to work traffic enforcement," he said.

CITIZENS' INPUT

Citizens also asked questions and said they were concerned about traffic safety, speed limits and road conditions.

Questions were asked about specific roads, school zones and intersections inside city limits.

DeWitt County resident Paul Guidry is among several residents circulating a petition asking Texas Department of Transportation to expedite projects to improve traffic safety, congestion and road conditions.

"It primarily concerns the major arteries for the oil field traffic," Guidry said.

Schoenemann assured those who attended that the department is aware of the problems.

"We don't have all the answers. We know what the situation is and understand what we face over the next five to 10 years," he said.

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