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Westhoff officials concerned about speeding trucks near school

By Sonny Long
Oct. 29, 2013 at 5:29 a.m.
Updated Oct. 30, 2013 at 5:30 a.m.

Westhoff Independent School District President Paddy Burwell eyes the big oil-field trucks that pass by the school every day. A radar speed sign has been posted on Farm-to-Market Road 240 in an effort to slow down speeding trucks.

SIGNS, SIGNS, EVERYWHERE THERE'S SIGNS

Existing warning and informational signs on Farm-to-Market Road 240 in DeWitt County approaching the Westhoff school from the south:

• Turn sign with posted speed of 25 mph

• Chevrons and arrow in the turn

• School advance crossing sign assembly

• 30 mph speed limit sign

• 20 mph school zone speed limit sign with flashing beacons

• Turn sign with posted speed limit sign of 15 mph

• School crossing sign assembly to indicate the crosswalk

• End school zone sign

SOURCE: Kathryn Camille Marek, Texas Department of Transportation district traffic engineer

WESTHOFF - Paddy Burwell is scared for his school kids.

Burwell, who has been on the Westhoff school board for 18 years, 14 as president, sees danger in speeding oil-field traffic on the rural road that runs alongside the 70-student campus.

"All we are trying to do is get the trucks to slow down going past the school," Burwell said. "I'm pleading for help."

The posted speed limit coming into town on the road is 30 as it nears the school. The school zone is a 20 mph zone.

Less than a week ago, an 18-wheeler tanker truck overturned less than a mile from the school.

The driver of the 2006 Freightliner hauling a trailer was cited for unsafe speed on the 25 mph segment of Farm-to-Market Road 240, said Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Trooper Gerald Bryant.

"He lost control in the sharp curve and veered to the left. Skidding, he hit a reflector and a sign."

That curve is within sight of the Westhoff campus. The school district has erected a fence to help prevent students from getting out onto the road.

Burwell said the traffic has increased significantly in the past year as several wells are actively being worked in the area.

"There's a lot of wells, 4 or 5 miles from my house," said Burwell, who lives 5 miles from the campus.

He has reached out to everyone he can think of to try to remedy what he considers a potential time bomb.

He has talked to the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Department of Public Safety, DeWitt County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy John Oglesby, DeWitt County Judge Daryl Fowler and DeWitt County Commissioner Curtis Afflerbach.

"We are working with the Westhoff superintendent to attempt to slow down traffic in that area," said Oglesby.

"We patrol and run radar out in the area when not away somewhere else on a call.

"We loaned our radar speed trailer to the school district to place it out where they like and when. We're doing what we can with what we have."

Burwell said he understands staffing issues, but in his more than 20 years coming and going on FM 240, he's seen one state trooper.

"There may have been thousands, but I've only seen one," he said. "I come in here every day."

The county judge wrote to the state transportation department about the situation.

"The primary need is that commercial trucks are speeding into the curve and present a deadly threat to the school children and potential damage to facilities," wrote Fowler.

"As the planning for the upgrade on FM 240 is being conducted, I hope TxDOT planners and supervisors will also see safety warnings as a necessary compliment to the widening and reinforcement."

The response was less than encouraging, said Burwell.

Replying to Fowler's letter, Kathryn Camille Marek, district traffic engineer in the TxDOT Yoakum District, wrote that the signs on the road approaching Westhoff from the south had been reviewed.

"There are existing signs to advise motorists of the turns and the school zone," wrote Marek.

"FM 240 is scheduled to be widened to 26 feet. This work does not include any additional signage."

The state agency maintains it is an enforcement issue.

"Enforcing the posted speed limits," said Helena Wright, public information officer for the transportation department, Yoakum District. "TxDOT has all the proper and required signage along that roadway. There is also signage warning drivers about the upcoming curve that speed should be reduced."

Burwell said he understands the agency's position that all the required signs are in place.

He's asked for everything from speed bumps to rumble strips to having their lighted school zone signs flash all the time, and he gets turned down every time.

"The common-sense truth of the matter is that the trucks come by too fast," he said.

"In the past four or five months, three trucks have turned over on that curve. A truck hit a house up there about a year or so ago."

"Even when they make the curve, they are coming right at the school too fast and not observing the signs that are up there.

"TxDOT said there's nothing else that can be done."

Burwell said at one point during his inquires he was asked if he had a radar gun so he knew for sure the trucks were speeding.

"I'm a reasonably intelligent person," said Burwell. "I may not have radar, but I know the difference between 25 mph and 45 mph."

Burwell said he's sure he hasn't made any friends with his persistent pleas for help.

"As I've gone in and complained - and I've complained a lot - I'm pretty sure a lot of people don't like me," Burwell said.

"But it's because of my concern for them speeding past this school."

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