A week ago Wednesday, teenager Jonathan Thomas was crossing US Highway 277 from Grand Canal and collided with another pickup truck driving south on 277. Since the collision, a petition to install a light at the intersection has been making its way around social media.
Scott Baxter was one of the first people at the scene of the crash last Wednesday. He knows Thomas and the truck that he drives. Baxter said that the truck was unrecognizable and did not know Thomas was in the truck. Baxter said he thinks something needs to be done at that intersection because many teenagers, including his own, use the intersection to drive to Wall High School.
In September 2015 and October 2015, San Angelo City Council Single Member District 1 representative Rodney Fleming hosted a town hall meeting to allow citizens to voice their concerns about the intersection at Grand Canal and Hwy 277. Residents of Wilke Downs, Country Club Lake Estates, Southgate Church of Christ and engineers from the Texas Department of Transportation attended the meeting. Fleming said residents he talked to either wanted a red light or a ramp constructed.
“At that time I said, you guys we are going to be coming back here and we are going to be talking to you when somebody dies up there at that intersection,” Fleming said.
According to Fleming, at the meetings, some felt it would be an inconvenience to make changes to the intersection.
Southgate Church of Christ minister Paul Shero said, “It doesn’t matter to the church what changes take place. It seems every option presented seems like it would add another problem.”
John DeWitt, Texas Department of Transportation director of transportation planning and development, attended the meetings in fall 2015, to listen to citizen concerns. He said that if and when there was a project there TxDot would fund and implement the project.
From that meeting, TxDot lowered the speed limit on Hwy 277, from 65 mph to 55 mph, in both directions.
“Fifty-five miles per hour is at the lowest extreme of our discretion that we can apply statistically to that speed zone. We can’t just set speed zones, we get into a statistical analysis. The prevailing speed is what we are legally able to establish the speed zone at.” DeWitt said.
According to DeWitt, from 2012 to 2015, there were 17 crashes at that particular intersection. One of those resulted in a death involving an elderly couple.
With the traffic volumes and type of highway, one option would be to construct a ramp between the frontage road in front of Southgate Church of Christ and southbound 277, designed to take traffic that currently uses frontage road to access 277 and not have to go through the intersection of Grand Canal and 277.
Another option would be to install a light. DeWitt fears this would be trading one type of crash for another.
“We could potentially see high speed rear-end wrecks,” he said.
DeWitt said if TxDot were to implement any of these options, it would be a minor expense. It comes down to safety and determining an option where we aren’t trading one accident for another type of accident.