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TxDOT Testing Ways To Stop Wrong-Way Drivers

By Andrea Lucia, CBS 11 | CBSDFW.COM
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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Andrea Lucia
Andrea joined CBS 11 and TXA 21 in September 2010, one day befo...
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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Wrong way crashes in the Dallas/Fort Worth Area have killed nine people in the last month, including two mothers, three young girls, and a deputy constable.

“It happened so fast,” said Cody Pae, who witnessed the latest accident Thursday morning on Highway 287 in Grand Prairie. He could hardly sleep replaying the events in his head. “There was more I could have done.  That’s how I honestly feel. I honestly felt like there was more I could have done,” he said.

In San Antonio, transportation experts are trying to figure out what more they can do. Their wrong way signs now flash, and when 911 receives a call about a wrong way driver, highway signs warn drivers up ahead.

To detect the danger even earlier TxDOT is now installing radar as part of a pilot project on Highway 281 in San Antonio, where a study showed the highest number of wrong way drivers.

The Westpark Tollway in Houston had radar installed back in 2009 and last year switched to more accurate sensors in pavement. In three years, they say they’ve detected 96 wrong way drivers and stopped 18 of them.

More importantly, they have had zero fatalities on this stretch of tollway since the program started.

“We do everything we can to make sure public safety is our number one priority,” said Calvin Harvey, of the Harris County Toll Road Authority.

So why don’t we have that technology here in Dallas-Fort Worth, the largest metro area in the state?

“Almost every solution has an issue that has to be overcome before we can deploy that kind of thing,” said Mark Pettit, a spokesperson for TXDOT here in Dallas. The new ideas are still in the testing phase.

And sometimes, ideas that sound good don’t always turn out so well in actual practice.

California learned that when it added spikes to a portion of its highway. Meant to pop the tires of wrong way drivers, the spikes eventually malfunctioned and started spiking the tires of drivers headed the right way, too.

There’s also a question of how cost effective new ideas can be – and how much money the state is willing to spend on them.

“We’re finding it difficult to fill our pot holes, let alone add an additional maintenance item to every off ramp in the state of Texas,” said Pettit.

The North Texas Tollway Authority, which oversees local toll roads, has created a wrong way detection system using sensors already in place for toll collection, according to the interim director of maintenance Eric Hemphill.

A spokesperson, though, couldn’t say how often it has worked and declined an interview.

TXDOT in Dallas, meanwhile, is launching a project aimed at impaired drivers, who are responsible for most wrong way crashes.

(©2012 KTVT CBS 11, CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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