Changes coming to dangerous spot on I-35 in Kyle
A lack of lighting on I-35 in Kyle is adding an extra danger to the road as the area's population continues to boom.
For nearly three years, Kyle police have been working with TxDOT to add lighting over I-35 in the city. This comes after four people were killed in a wrong-way crash in February, 2016.
"It was a surreal scene," chief Jeff Barnett said.
Barnett remembers vehicle parts scattered for about a half mile after a drunk driver slammed into a van going the wrong-way at night. Four people died, including a child.
Barnett said he remembered looking at the area that night and noticing a lack of light. "There was limited lighting, very limited visibility," Barnett said.
Nearby surveillance video then showed what happened. After the initial crash, the vehicles battery went out causing the vehicles to go dark. Then a car behind crashed into the van. "It supported the belief that we had at the scene that the impact was tremendous," Barnett said.
Later that year, Barnett asked TxDOT for lighting over I-35 in the city. Nearly three years later, there are still no lights, but TxDOT said it plans to budget funding for lighting in 2020. "They were very supportive in our requests," Barnett said. "They welcomed an opportunity to hear from the local police department about what concerns we might have."
Kyle mayor Travis Mitchell remembers how that crash hit the town hard. "It's harrowing to think that a car could get into an accident right here on I-35 and spend a significant amount of time in the dark without any vehicles being able to see that a crash took place," Mitchell said.
At the time, Mitchell owned a business of the interstate. He knew full well the dangers of driving on I-35 without any lights. "Perhaps if there were lights on I-35 then the worst part of that wreck could have been avoided," Mitchell said.
TxDOT's Diann Hodges said after the police request, they studied the area to see what improvements they could make. However, while the crash highlighted the need, she said it wasn't the reason they decided to add lighting.
She said they add lighting when there is extra traffic in an area along with entrances and exits. "We've got to see population growth not just in the surrounding area but also along and on the highway," Hodges said. "As populations grow then we do add lighting."
There are some smaller, street lights around entrances and exits in Kyle. However, Barnett wants larger, high-mast lights to illuminate the interstate through the entire city limits.
"That provides a lot more lighting to the traffic lanes of I-35," Kyle PD captain Pedro Hernandez said.
Hernandez said headlights can only provide a limited sight distance both ahead and around vehicles. "Especially when you're travelling at a higher rate of speed, the distance, your visibility distance is shorter," Hernandez said.
Hodges said TxDOT plans to add 24 lights from just south of Yarrington Road to just north of Center Road in Hays County. That's a $2.4 million project that's set to be added to the 2020 budget. Hodges said when they get the funding they should start building them soon after.
Hodges also said TxDOT plans to add light all across I-35 in 2020 from Georgetown to San Marcos. "Our goal in the next two years is really to have illumination throughout the Austin district," Hodges said.
She said that includes replacing bulbs as well for newer ones that provide better illumination. Hodges also said once a city reaches a population of 50,000 people, then it's the city's job to maintain lighting. Mitchell said Kyle just reached 47,500 people.
"We just want the lights, whatever they want us to do, we'll do it," Mitchell said.
Mitchell said he hopes TxDOT keeps to its plan to add their project to the 2020 budget. "2020 would be great but you know how government works," Mitchell said.
He said their growth from 5,000 people in the year 2000 has been a double-edged sword. They love the business, but they've seen a lot more traffic.
He said this lighting will benefit everyone, from people passing through to locals commuting to work. "We're really in a precarious situation, having to drive in the dark on a scary road every single day," Mitchell said.
Barnett said it could also save lives. "I think additional lighting on the interstate could certainly save lives, improve safety for all of our motorists, including our emergency workers while they're out there on the scene," Barnett said.