East Texans say Toll 49 may be more dangerous than Hwy 31

Updated: Mar. 6, 2017 at 7:10 PM CST
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Road work on Hwy 31 (Source: KLTV)
Road work on Hwy 31 (Source: KLTV)
Toll 49 (Source : KLTV)
Toll 49 (Source : KLTV)

SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - East Texans have long known Highway 31 east of Tyler as "Bloody 31" due to the many deadly wrecks over the years, but a different road is quickly taking on that reputation.

Eleven people have died in eight wrecks on Toll 49 since 2015.

Eight of the deaths happened on the stretch of road between Highway 31 west and Interstate 20.

By comparison, in that same stretch of time, there have been ten fatal wrecks on Highway 31 East. Toll 49 has only been open since 2013.

NET RMA says a contractor is to be selected Monday, to perform safety upgrades on Toll 49. However, despite the attempts at making the toll road safe, we spoke with some people who say Toll 49 may be becoming more dangerous than Highway 31.

Kelcey Trotty with the Jackson Heights Fire Department has worked on Toll 49 and Highway 31.

"49 is starting to gain that reputation that 31 has always had. 31 has been called 'bloody 31' and that's been for a reason, and 49 is getting to be that way," says Trotty.

Others, like attorney Randy Roberts, says he's noticed more cases coming out of Toll 49.

"I feel more comfortable driving on Highway 31," says Roberts.

He says dangers like hills and people turning on and off the road can be controlled.

"By slowing down when I come to those hills. On Loop 49 or Toll 49, I have no control," says Roberts.

TxDOT has been working since 2014 to add passing lanes on a road where many need to turn for a specific reason.

Homes next to the road make Highway 31 different from Toll 49.

Rickey Mosely lives just feet from Highway 31, and in 40 years, he's seen a lot of wrecks.

"Yes, I have. About two weeks ago I had to replace my mailbox," says Mosely.

He says the safety work on highway 31 has made some difference.

"I think it's been beneficiary for the road...I do think they should have made it at least all the way out a four-lane highway," says Mosely.

TxDOT  says they are currently negotiating with a consultant to begin the schematic development and the environmental coordination for four lanes from Tyler to Kilgore.

Adding four lanes has been a proposal on Toll 49, as well, along with lowering the speed.

"Why we continue to bless 70 mph or more on that highway I don't know," says Roberts.

NET RMA says the speeds were set, then reviewed, by TxDOT. They say the 70 mph speeds were set in the southern areas of the road where there is more traffic and more ramps.

The 75 mph speeds as observed in the stretch from I-20 to Highway 31, were set in areas where there are fewer ramps and a straighter road.

NET RMA says they've done studies that show no correlation between to the toll road's speed and car wrecks.

Soon NET RMA says they will be able to physically address the safety concerns with the most cost-effective option: rumble strips, reflectors and a flush median, to bring less danger to the drivers on their road.

Read more: New Toll 49 safety upgrades approved

NET RMA says they will also add signage to toll 49, and another segment of toll road is currently being built that will be completed in 2018. It will wrap around Lindale, but that segment will have the same safety upgrades.

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