SPECIAL REPORT: 'Bloody 31'
POSTED: Monday, November 5, 2012 - 10:10pm
UPDATED: Friday, December 21, 2012 - 10:23am
SMITH COUNTY —
"To wake up in the middle of the night and find automobiles in your yard, your children dead beside the highway...it's a terrifying situation," - DJ Ford, East Texan
"Bloody 31" -- that's State Highway 31 East for those who haven't heard the morbid moniker.
East Texan D.J. Ford lives right on 31. She and most of her family live all along the road...so much so, they call it "Ford Country." And they've all had brushes with death there throughout their lives...
D.J. and her husband James know all too well.
"My son was killed 100 yards from my house. That was in '05. And my brother was injured last year and he's in a wheelchair and a walker at this particular time," James said.
James says he actually helped construct the road back in the 1960s. He says the term 'Bloody 31' was around even before then from the old 31...that he says was also dangerous!
Smith County Justice of the Peace Mitch Shamburger has had to declare many drivers dead on Highway 31 throughout the years.
He says since Interstate 20 now has a concrete divider in the middle of the road, that's alleviated many of the deaths there. Now, 31 is certainly his busiest area for fatalities out in the county.
"You know if they put crosses up everywhere where somebody has died on 31, it would probably be strewn with crosses from Tyler to Kilgore," Shamburger said.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, from 2007 to 2012 there have been 26 fatalities on the 17-mile stretch of road, a total of 378 accidents...involving 849 people.
The Fords tell KETK, it's hard for them to even back out of their driveways because of the speeding drivers...State Trooper Jean Dark has noticed the same thing.
"We've had people who have pulled out and were travelling quite slow being hit by someone who is already traveling over 70 miles an hour," Dark said.
Trooper Dark says a lot of the problems on the road are people passing when it's not safe or legal to do so.
"There's nothing dramatically different that I have noticed about that particular stretch of roadway. As much as it is that people just need to pay attention to what they're doing," Dark said.
But the Ford family and many others don't agree. They want something done about highway 31. They've formed a group called the 'Concerned Citizens of Bloody 31' -- they've already gotten nearly 400 signatures for a petition urging the state to do something.
They're hoping the road can be widened. But there's also an easier fix first.
"They need to at least lower the speed limit! This is not a normal highway like Interstate 20...it's not...this is a residential area," said Terri Ford.
Part of the 31 speed limit was reduced from 70 to 60. But D.J. Ford says there aren't even many houses on that part.
"They did the stretch from 323 to 850 down to 60 miles an hour creating a speed trap! It serves no other purpose," she said.
Larry Krantz with the Texas Department of Transportation says only so much can be done.
"There are 2 or 3 passing opportunities as it stands now and there's a project that's gonna let -- in August of 2013 to add additional passing opportunities to that stretch of roadway," Krantz said.
He says anything further like widening the road is just too expensive.
"In order to build a 2 lane Farm to Market road, it's $1.6 million a mile. You're talking about 17 miles of roadway that's built to a higher standard than a farm road. Plus we don't have the right of way. The foot print isn't big enough to actually have 4 lanes out there so we're talking about buying additional right of way along that corridor for the entire corridor instead of building the passing lanes that we can in the existing footprint. Doesn't require any purchase of right of way to make that happen," Krantz said.
Gregory Ford says he's not sure if they can wait until late 2013 when that project starts.
"How many more people are gonna lose their lives on 31 while TxDot is trying to figure out whether they have the monies or when they can fit it in their budget," he said.
Several years ago, Gregory's daughters Nichole and Kimberly were hit from behind while backing out of their driveway to go to Bible study. His wife Terri got the call.\
"Sitting at Bible study, I got a call. Saying that my children was in the accident. And when I come home and there's all kinds of cars and everything and I find my daughter laying on the side of the street. And then to find out that she was hit by a drunk driver," Terri said emotionally.
"To have your baby sitting out unconscious in a car...and I have to go out on 31 to get her out of the car and lay her there and wait for the ambulance to come...it's pretty...pretty horiffic," Gregory Ford said.