Car parts mark the spot where a vehicle crashed into a deep culvert that is not visible from street level. There is no guardrail or sign warning of the danger.
by Ann Fowler
Recently Scenic Brook resident Amy Harper was on her way to do some shopping at H-E-B at the ‘Y.’ As she slowed down to turn into the parking lot she glanced into the rear view mirror and saw something disturbing: A car had plunged into the culvert and was all but invisible to passers by.
Ramona Williams said the car’s brakes failed. She suffered a fractured knee while her friend Jaymee needed 13 stitches to close a cut over her eye. Two male passengers were unhurt.
Recalled Harper: “I was coming home from work and just as I turned onto 71, I began to slow down to turn into H-E-B. I just happened to glance back to my right (looking across where the large culvert cuts a wide path across the triangular grass area in the center of the Y) and I saw a young man about 40 feet away carrying a young lady whose face was covered in blood. They were coming toward me through the culvert and behind them I saw their car that had plunged head first into the concrete culvert on the other side of 71. Later I saw another young man and Ramona coming from the car.”
Harper is concerned about the lack of barriers around the culverts at the ‘Y,’ calling it “incredibly dangerous.” This accident found the driver and passengers able to get out on their own, but Harper worries about the next time—when the car accident victims may need help but are invisible to those driving past.
“Had I been going faster and/or looking straight ahead, I would have missed it completely,” said Harper. “The car was completely hidden except in the one spot where I just happened to look to the left.”
Harper’s concerns were relayed to Carlos Lopez, district engineer for the Austin District of the Texas Department of Transportation. Surprisingly, his research showed no other car-into-culvert accidents at the ‘Y’ in the past five years.
Lopez told the Gazette, “A search and analysis of our crash records indicate that the accident on May 31 is the only such incident in the last five years in which a vehicle has run off the road into the culvert. The location on SH 71 where the accident occurred has two lanes heading eastbound and one lane heading westbound. There is recovery area between the westbound lane and the culvert. The absence of an accident history related to the culvert is indicative that motorists are able to travel this area safely and without incident.”
An inspection of the site revealed however, there is no shoulder or recovery area between Highway 71 and the culvert, in the westbound lane closest to the HEB (not where the accident happened).
Although no accident history exists at that location, Lopez said TxDOT puts a premium on safety. He said, “To enhance safety in this area, we will install rumble striping that will help alert motorists that they may stray from the travel lane. This striping should be complete by late summer.”
Rumble striping may help careless drivers, but it may not be useful for motorists whose tires blow out or, as in Williams’ case, brakes fail. Lopez said they would monitor the situation to make sure motorists continue to be safe driving through the ‘Y.’
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