'It's just not safe,' driver says about U.S. 59 northbound near Telferner

Troopers respond to a crash that left five dead and seven injured last weekend near the merge of U.S. 59 North and northbound U.S. 59 Business just north of Telferner.

A stretch of northbound U.S. 59 still makes Missy Madden Klimitchek nervous, even though she has driven on the highway almost daily for decades.

The Victoria native said she is extra cautious near Telferner, where U.S 59 North and northbound U.S. 59 Business both merge down from two lanes to one lane before merging together.

“People who aren’t familiar with this traffic pattern can be caught off guard quickly with nowhere to go. I always yield to cars that get caught in that outside lane that ends quickly, just to avoid a wreck,” she said. “It’s just not safe.”

At least 47 crashes have happened along the half-mile stretch of the northbound U.S. 59 and U.S. 59 Business merge near Telferner since 2010, according to the Texas Department of Transportation data query. That number includes the crash that left five dead and seven injured July 20.

The collision occurred when a passenger van in the inside lane of U.S. 59 North hit an 18-wheeler in the outside lane shortly after the two lanes merged, causing the van’s driver to lose control, cross the grassy median and hit a southbound truck head-on, said Sgt. Ruben San Miguel, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Factors that contributed to the crash are still under investigation, San Miguel said Friday.

U.S. 59 south of Telferner was completed in 1968, while the stretch of road north of Telferner was completed in 1972, said Lucean Herring, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation Yoakum District. Formerly known as Loop 175, the roadway to Telferner was designated as U.S. 59 in 1994, when the portion traveling through the city was renamed U.S. 59 Business, Advocate archives show.

Klimitchek is among local drivers who feel as if the U.S. 59 North and U.S. 59 Business merge happens too fast.

The transportation department has a standard merge distance for highway access roads, though that number was not available Friday.

“I was really hoping when I saw the roadwork taking place there (south of Telferner) that it would ... make the merge happen further down the road, allowing drivers to first recover from all that is associated with the (U.S. 59 North) overpass before trying to merge with a large amount of traffic from U.S. 59 Business, which also narrows from two lanes to one,” she said.

Two “Left Lane Merge Right” signs currently line U.S. 59 North before the two-lane highway decreases to one and another merge sign warns drivers before that lane merges with U.S. 59 Business. There is no “Left Lane Merges Right” as the northbound two-lane U.S. 59 Business decreases to one lane just before merging with U.S. 59 North, though a yield and merge sign are placed a few yards before the merge.

Ary Canales, a 34-year-old Victoria resident, said she thinks a more noticeable warning on U.S. 59 North and U.S. 59 Business before the merge would make a difference for drivers.

“There is no real obvious warning when you are coming over the (U.S. 59 North) overpass,” she said. “There should be a blinking light or rumble strips – some indicators for out-of-towners because wrecks happen there pretty often, and we have so much through traffic.”

The crash that occurred last weekend is under review at the Texas Department of Transportation Victoria office and will be reviewed at the Yoakum district’s fatal crash review team’s meeting in late August or early September, said Jeffery Vinklarek, the Yoakum District’s lead engineer. Those district meetings regularly take place every other month.

Once the DPS crash report is completed and findings examined, officials will decide whether any new safety measures can be put into place, he said. Findings could result in anything from added signage to pavement.

“We will look at the configuration or geometry of the roadway there and see if there is anything that could have prevented that crash and would prevent future crashes from happening,” he said. “When we do that, we also look at the crash history on that roadway to see if we have a problem.”

Though the project is currently unfunded, the transportation agency hopes to soon bring U.S. 59 north of Telferner up to interstate standards as part of the I-69 corridor plans. U.S. 59 south of Telferner from Loop 463 to Farm-to-Market Road 1686 is already under construction as part of the long awaited I-69 Improvement Project.

“I am assuming we would do construction, and that merge there would change,” Vinklarek said.

Tom Halepaska, a former city councilman who served on the Victoria Metropolitan Planning Commission for more than a decade, said he does not recall the stretch of highway ever being discussed for safety concerns during MPO meetings.

There is no way to try to make sense of the crash that happened last weekend without the investigation completed, Halepaska said, but he always found the stretch of highway that the tragedy occurred on to be safe.

“Actually the area, where those people died, was one of the safer areas by TxDOT standards that we have, I do believe,” he said. “And I drive that road daily.”

Public comments for the 2020-2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan opened in April. Maggie Bergeron, transportation planner and MPO coordinator for Victoria County, said she has not received comments regarding the stretch of U.S. 59 near Telferner, but has heard thoughts on the speeds of U.S. 59, which is 75 mph and U.S. 59 Business, which is 55 mph.

“I have received some public comments that the speed on U.S. 59 is maybe too high, but there have been no comments on that specific area,” she said. “Some people have also said that the airport entrance can be easy to miss on U.S. 59 Business or people are maybe going a little too fast and not following that 55 mph speed limit.”

The first phase of public comments for the transportation plan will remain open until Aug. 9, and the 2020-2045 plan adoption date is scheduled for April.

Bergeron said she encourages anyone with concerns or a desire to comment on transportation priorities to visit the Victoria2045.com website or attend the first transportation public hearing, which will be from 4-7:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Victoria Community Center.

“That would be an excellent platform to express feelings about transportation in this area or anywhere in Victoria County in general,” she said.

Kali Venable is a public safety reporter for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6558 or at kvenable@vicad.com.

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Investigative & Environmental Reporter

"I am a Houston native and 5th generation Texan, with a degree in journalism and minor in creative writing from the University of Texas at Austin. I care deeply about public interests and the community I serve.”

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