Two weeks ago, David James tapped his brakes and came to a stop behind a sea of stalled cars on Interstate 35W near Basswood Boulevard — nothing unusual during his morning commute.
But five seconds later, a 40-ton truck hauling asphalt slammed into the SUV behind him, which smashed into the back end of James’ 2014 Ford Mustang.
“I had no idea it was coming. I couldn’t even prepare,” said James, 37.
Traffic accidents are up 20 percent in Fort Worth this year, and if you take a drive on I-35W, as James does five days a week, it’s easy to see why.
The traffic-clogged, construction-heavy corridor is home to nine of the city’s top 10 crash locations the last three years, according to statistics presented by the Police Department to City Council members last week.
Capt. Daniel Humphries, the traffic division commander who presented the numbers, said the overall increase in accidents is “absolutely” related to construction.
The police stats — which include top accident locations, causes and days they occurred from Jan. 1, 2013, through March 3 of this year — list Western Center Boulevard, Basswood Boulevard and Meacham Boulevard as the most accident-prone areas along I-35W.
Numbers at each of those locations “may be affected significantly” by construction, the stats note.
In all, Fort Worth had 9,862 traffic accidents through June 20 this year, compared to 8,194 during that time frame last year.
Fewer than 10 percent of the accidents this year — 948 — were in construction zones, but that’s up from 762 last year and 463 in 2014.
9,862 Traffic accidents in Fort Worth this year through June 20, up from 8,194 during that time in 2015.
Humphries’ full presentation can be viewed here.
(Note: Humphries, who has been with the department since 1992, was arrested Wednesday on an intoxication assault charge after being involved in a traffic accident in Hurst. He was placed on restricted duty.)
$1.6 billion in construction
At any given time, several hundred workers are in the area north and south of Loop 820 on I-35W, some of them on foot using hand tools and others driving water trucks, excavators, road graders and other heavy equipment.
They see it all.
“We see a lot of distracted drivers out there,” Brandon McInnes, a worker for Houston-based contractor Brown and Gay Engineers, said on a recent afternoon during a break. “When you’re working right next to the traffic you see it all the time — people on smartphones, people putting on makeup, eating food.”
Workers have tried to make the I-35W area safer by installing signs warning motorists of places where work trucks will be entering and exiting the highway. It’s a common problem for motorists to accidentally follow gravel haulers and other vehicles turning into a work site, despite signs warning drivers not to follow construction trucks.
Speed limits have been lowered to 50 mph in the I-35W work zone “to not only protect workers but also the traveling public so that they can react safely to changing traffic patterns and conditions,” said Heather DeLapp, spokeswoman for North Tarrant Infrastructure, a lead contractor on the portion of I-35W construction from Loop 820 south to near downtown Fort Worth.
“We have placed speed monitors in the corridor to capture the attention of motorists as a reminder to slow down in the work zone,” she said.
DeLapp's company is part of a team known as NTE Mobility Partners, which is rebuilding I-35W from Interstate 30 near downtown Fort Worth to Loop 820. Simultaneously, the Texas Department of Transportation is rebuilding I-35W from Loop 820 to near Heritage Trace Parkway in the Alliance area.
In all, it’s about $1.6 billion worth of road work. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2018.
Distracted drivers, cones, add to mess
James said the combination of traffic, construction and distractions can make for a treacherous commute.
“I look over and some dude’s texting,” James said, “and I’ll honk and point at him like I’m his mother.”
James’ accident on I-35W near Basswood earlier this month cost him about $5,000 in damage to his car and a trip to the emergency room, where he was treated for whiplash. He knows it could have been worse.
In December, two people in a Ford Fusion were killed when their car was rear-ended by a Ford Explorer on I-35W at Heritage Trace Parkway. A month earlier, a 66-year-old man was killed in the same area when his car was hit from behind by a tanker truck near a construction zone.
Another complication for police, Humphries said, is the stretches of construction cones and barriers that prevent officers from pulling over speeding drivers.
“The most difficult portion of it is if we try to do enforcement, there’s not a safe location to pull people over,” he told the council. “And so if they see some activity and want to make the traffic stop, they sometimes have to wait three or five miles down the road before they can safely do it.”
Police worked with the city’s Transportation and Public Works Department to gather the data on top accident locations.
Below are some takeaways from the data. Accident totals were available through June 20, while location-specific numbers were through March 3.
- Fatality accidents were down through June 20, at 35 compared to 37 at that point last year. About half of the fatality accidents this year occurred on highways.
- I-35W near Western Center Boulevard, just north of Loop 820 in far north Fort Worth, has been the city’s most accident-prone area the last three years. Thirty-eight accidents occurred there through March 3, pushing the location’s total to 595 accidents since the start of 2013.
- By comparison, second-place I-35W at Basswood Boulevard, about a mile north of Western Center, had 18 accidents through March 3 and 360 since 2013.
- In third place, I-35W near Meacham Boulevard, south of north Loop 820, jumped from 86 accidents in 2014 to 122 last year.
- Beach Street and I-30, east of downtown, has been the most accident-heavy area on I-30 with 12 accidents through March 3 of this year and 205 since 2013.
595 Traffic accidents on I-35W near Western Center Boulevard from 2013 through March 3 of this year, the most accident-prone area in the city.
- Failure to control speed was the leading accident factor, causing nearly 16,000 accidents since the start of 2013.
- Driver inattention caused about 13,000 accidents. The third most frequent factor was failure to yield right of way, causing about 6,000 accidents.
- Driving under the influence caused a little more than 2,000 accidents, according to the data.
- Friday and Saturday were the leading days for traffic accidents — each day accounted for about 24 percent of all crashes since the start of 2013. Sunday was the lowest day, accounting for 3 percent.
- The number of crashes rose each day from Sunday to Friday.
Motorists have a few options if they want to avoid the I-35W construction in north Fort Worth:
- From downtown, take Sylvania Avenue to Meacham Boulevard, and then Meacham to Riverside Drive. From there, take Riverside over North Loop 820 before cutting back to I-35W on Western Center Boulevard or Basswood Boulevard.
- North Beach Street runs from just east of downtown to the far north Fort Worth neighborhoods.
- North Main Street runs from downtown Fort Worth through Saginaw, and then connects with U.S. 287.
Staff writer Gordon Dickson contributed to this report