By Samantha Smith
A rising population in Central Texas has led to a rising issue of traffic accidents on Interstate 35.
According to the latest available reports, May 2015, crash statistics from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), there were 17 fatalities from traffic accidents in Hays County last year and a total of 2,558 crashes.
No clear information, however, is known about how many of these fatalities occurred on I-35.
Kyle Police Department Chief Jeff Barnett said there have been seven fatalities resulting from traffic accidents on I-35 near Kyle so far in 2016.
That number breaks down to roughly 1.4 fatalities a month. If such a trend were to continue, there could be a total of 17 fatalities by the end of the year on I-35.
Barnett attributes the increase of traffic related accidents to an influx in population growth, as well as a more lax driving mentality.
“There’s just more motorists using that roadway (I-35), and the length of heavy traffic hours have extended until almost 7 p.m.,” said Barnett.
This surge in population growth has added to the already congested roadway, prompting city and state officials to up the ante on increased safety measures on I-35.
According to a TxDOT public information officer Kelli Reyna, TxDOT has developed a 10-year plan that costs an estimated $4.3 billion. The plan, Reyna said, will address congestion and enhance safety on I-35. She said it includes over 40 planned projects along the I-35 corridor, if funding is identified.
One of the proposed projects on the Mobility35 plan, created in August 2013, involves widening the freeway footprint by adding an additional lane in each direction of I-35, called Future Transportation Corridors (FTCs).
The cost breakdown of adding an FTC to a section of I-35 in each city is separated into three phases.
According to the Mobility35 plan, the cost of dding an FTC to Kyle would be a little over $202 million.
Funding for such a project, however, is not confirmed.
According to the Mobility35 website, funding the program will require collaborative action from local, state and federal agencies, as well as from citizens and elected officials.
But the number of unsafe drivers has increased, as well due to the dwindling traffic units available for freeway safety monitoring, Barnett said.
He attributed the decrease in traffic units patrolling highways to overstretched police forces that can’t easily address interstate traffic violations in addition to their patrol duties.
“In May of 2015, we (KPD) had to re-assign hours for traffic units back to patrol due to lack of staff,” Barnett said.
TxDOT has utilized a year-round STEP program (Selective Traffic Enforcement Program) to help increase freeway monitoring that offers funding to local police departments in order to pay officers to work overtime patrolling Texas highways.
On May 16, Kyle Police heightened officer response, resulting in 47 total citations for speeding on I-35. Only six of those were given to Kyle residents.
Kyle Police only issued one citation on May 9.
Barnett hopes to see traffic accident numbers on I-35 in Kyle decrease with an increased officer presence.
“We have hired five new officers in the last few months that are all still in various levels of training, but I anticipate a fully staffed traffic unit to be operating by the end of the year,” Barnett said.
Interstate 35 stats
7 fatalities from traffic accidents in Kyle so far in 2016
2,558 total crashes in Hays County last year
1.4 fatalities a month in Kyle on average