Permian Basin Gets $2 Billion for Road Improvements, Amid Rising Accident Rate

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West Texas communities could soon see some much-needed road improvements, now that the state Transportation Commission has approved billions in new funding for the Odessa District.

Permian Basin Traffic Fatalities Up 160% in 3 Years

The Odessa District encompasses 12 Permian Basin counties: Andrews, Crane, Ector, Loving, Martin, Midland, Pecos, Reeves, Terrell, Upton, Ward, and Winkler. For the past several years, these counties have been at the center of  an unprecedented drilling boom that’s brought more workers, traffic, and heavy trucks into the Permian Basin than ever before.

While the Odessa District holds just 2% of the Texas population, it now accounts for 11% of the state’s traffic fatalities. During the last three years alone, fatal truck and 18-wheeler crashes increased more than 120% across the Midland-Odessa region, while overall traffic fatalities rose by 160%.

It certainly doesn’t help that a shortage of veteran truckers in the Permian has attracted thousands of new – and often inexperienced – drivers to the oilfields across west Texas. Already unfamiliar with the region’s challenging topography, these untested drivers frequently work 12-hour-days, six-days-per-week, and are far too fatigued to safely operate their rigs.

Sad State of Permian Basin Roads Threaten Texas Economy

Yet the area’s neglected, rural roadways also share blame for the Permian Basin’s rising death toll, as they were never intended to carry the heavy volume of traffic unleashed with the drilling boom. By some accounts, nearly every road and highway in the region is either too narrow to handle the current traffic load or deteriorating because of the ever-increasing demands.

“There are jobs in high rises in Houston that depend on oil wells in Wink,” State Representative Brooks Landgraf recently told CBS-7. “And that important role that the Permian Basin plays is being threatened because we have critical infrastructure needs as it relates to our highways, as it relates to public safety”

More than $5 Billion Earmarked for Permian Basin Roads

The Texas Transportation Commission unanimously approved $2 billion for Odessa District road improvements on August 29th. The decision means more than $5 billion in new highway funds will funnel into the Texas side of the Permian Basin over the next 10 years.

Among other things, this considerable investment will pay for upgrades along I-20 through Ector and Midland counties; vital improvements to Loop 338 in Odessa, Loop 250 in Midland, and Highway 302 through Winkler County; and the creation of a “relief route” for Highway 285, aka “Death Highway,” through Pecos.

“This is going to make our roads safer, it’s going to save lives, and it’s going to help the Permian Basin continue to be the top oil and gas producer in the world,” Representative Landgraf said. “Very thankful for this big victory for west Texas today.”

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