Crashes, fatalities on SH 130 reach four-year high

In totality, SH 130 stretches 91 miles from Georgetown to Seguin. (Taylor Jackson Buchanan/Community Impact Newspaper)
In totality, SH 130 stretches 91 miles from Georgetown to Seguin. (Taylor Jackson Buchanan/Community Impact Newspaper)

In totality, SH 130 stretches 91 miles from Georgetown to Seguin. (Taylor Jackson Buchanan/Community Impact Newspaper)

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Round Rock resident Mary Jane Doe was commuting home from her office in South Austin on Oct. 10 when she saw brake lights ahead on SH 130. It was around 3:45 p.m., and traffic was completely stopped.

She did not know it at the time, but all three northbound lanes ahead of her were closed near Pecan Street in Pflugerville.

“I was stuck in the most recent shutdown,” Doe said. “I was, like, stuck-stuck. Traffic was not moving.”

All northbound lanes of SH 130 were closed for eight hours that day, from roughly 3:15-11:30 p.m., as police investigated the cause of a fatal crash. For the section of SH 130 that stretches between Hwy. 290 and Hwy. 79, the Oct. 10 crash is one of four fatalities in the past four years, according to data from the Texas Department of Transportation. Notably, the Oct. 10 crash is one of three deadly SH 130 collisions this year alone.

In addition, the total number of crashes is higher this year than in 2016, 17 or 18. As of Nov. 15, TxDOT has recorded 176 crashes for the portion of SH 130 between Hwy. 290 and Hwy. 79. This is up from 164 crashes in 2018; 142 in 2017; and 133 in 2016.

Designed for speed

From fender-benders to fatal collisions, crashes clog traffic on a roadway designed for speed.

In totality, SH 130 stretches 91 miles from Georgetown to Seguin. TxDOT touts the roadway as “the fastest way between Austin and San Antonio” on its website. Portions of SH 130 have the highest speed limit in the nation at 85 mph, according to TxDOT.

As more drivers take SH 130, the number of crashes has increased. Up from 43,020 in 2016, more than 55,000 drivers now use the road daily, per TxDOT data.

The three fatal crashes in 2019 resulted in a combined 25 hours in which all lanes of SH 130 were closed in one direction, according to data provided by the Pflugerville Police Department. For commuters such as Doe, drive times can increase significantly when a crash closes one or more lanes.

“While [SH 130] is the most convenient for me to get home, at times, it’s horrible,” Doe said.

While Doe’s commute time tripled on Oct. 10, Pflugerville Police Chief Jessica Robledo was at the scene of the crash.

“A life was lost in our community,” Robledo said. “We had to shut down traffic for several hours during the height of rush-hour traffic. That’s how important any one person’s life is.”

The shutdown was lengthy, but it was necessary to investigate the crash, Robledo said.

“I know it was an inconvenience,” Robledo said. “But a man lost his life. What is the greater good here?”

Slowdown ahead

Traversed by suburban dwellers for workday commutes into Austin and Central Texans for access to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, SH 130 paves the way for an average of more than 55,000 drivers a day.

“That toll road is being used by so many people who are commuting,” Robledo said. “Some even live as far north as Killeen.”

The regional nature of the road poses a unique challenge to public safety professionals: how to spread the word about slowdowns, shutdowns and hazards.

“It’s hard to get the word out,” city of Pflugerville spokesperson Maggie Holman said. “We have people who follow us [on social media] from Pflugerville. But if we have people driving in from Austin, from Killeen, from Georgetown, they’re not dialed in to Pflugerville social media.”

Even local residents may receive information via social media too late to alter travel plans.

Bronwyn Kutsch, an Austin resident, said she received information about the Oct. 10 shutdown nearly 24 hours after the road had reopened.

“I’m curious why this is showing up in my feed today when the accident occurred yesterday?” Kutsch wrote in the comment section on a Community Impact Newspaper Facebook post. “Is the road still closed?”

Facebook is looking for a solution for public safety alerts, Holman said. Locally, the city of Round Rock and the Pflugerville Police Department are part of a beta test group for a Facebook tool known as Local Alerts. The tool, which is expected to launch statewide in the coming months, “allows local government and first responder pages to communicate urgent information,” according to Facebook.

“Local Alerts will allow us to push alerts out to all of our followers,” Holman said. “So that’s great, because when we shut down [SH] 130 in October, people were saying, ‘I’m just now hearing about this, and it’s reopened.’”

Construction zone

TxDOT is in the process of adding an additional lane in each direction from SH 45 N to Hwy. 290. Construction on the 9-mile stretch of SH 130 began in October 2018 and is expected to be complete by the end of 2020.•In 2019, a total of 44 crashes—one out of every four collisions—occurred in the construction zone, according to TxDOT data through Nov. 15.

Doe said she appreciates that TxDOT is adding additional lanes; however, the current impact of construction makes her commute more stressful.

She spoke to Community Impact Newspaper on her hands-free device during her afternoon commute home: “There is construction going around on [SH] 130, which I appreciate. But right now, I’m driving in between two barrier walls. Right now, there is an 18-wheeler in front of me and another right behind me.”•Ensuring safety

In addition to factors such as road condition and construction, a road is ultimately as safe as the drivers traveling it, Robledo said.

In the past four years, a total of 101 crashes on SH 130 were attributed to distracted driving, per TxDOT’s data. Distracted driving includes driver inattention, cell phone use or other distractions taking place within the vehicle, according to the state transportation agency.

“It’s a great toll road,” Robledo said. “It gets us where we need to go. But it’s our responsibility to be safe drivers.”

In light of the holidays, Robledo stressed extra caution. She advised leaving plenty of time to account for increased traffic on the road as people travel across Central Texas.

“At the end of the day, SH 130 is our road,” Robledo said. “We—the way we behave, and our driving habits—that’s what’s going to make it a safe road.”
By Taylor Jackson Buchanan
Taylor Buchanan joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2018 after completing a master of journalism degree from the University of Texas. She worked as the senior reporter for Community Impact's Southwest Austin edition and is now the editor for the company's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition.