"We are about changing the traffic dynamics. We don't want any more of those crashes," said LaViza Matthews of the Texas Department of Transportation. She was in Dumas on Tuesday to award two grants to the Moore County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) that will help deputies increase patrolling of county roadways that have become notorious for fatal car and truck wrecks.
The Selective Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) grant and the Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) grant both pay deputies overtime to work hours beyond their normal shifts to patrol problem areas. "We are paying law enforcement to go do extra hours, so it is above and beyond, and it doesn't cost the county at all," said Matthews. TxDOT gives out the grants annually. The money for the grants originally comes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "This will be a huge bonus to law enforcement, and it will benefit the whole community. When the wrecks are caused by speeding or drunk driving, if you have high-visibility law enforcement there, it will slow the speeders down and deter the drunk driving."
In recent years, the intersections of U.S. 287 and FM 119 and FM 1284 and Morton Elevator Road in Moore County have been the scene of several multi-fatality wrecks. According to Lieutenant Brandon Jones of the Moore County Sheriff's Office, those areas, along with the area around the cotton gin on U.S. 287 north of Dumas and FM 2203 by the golf course, have proven to be the most lethal roadways for motorists in the county. Some of the accidents have involved distracted drivers, people running stop signs, and at least one, the case of members of the outdoor musical Texas, involved a driver impaired by alcohol and marijuana.
Last year, the Sheriff's Office and the Moore County Commissioners requested a traffic study by the Texas Department of Transportation, the agency responsible for signage on the roadways involved, to see if different signs, rumble strips, or some other physical construction could be installed to prevent future accidents. At the conclusion of the study, TxDOT engineers said that the intersections and roads did not meet the criteria for enhanced signage. Increased safety would have to come through increased enforcement and deterrence.
At this point, Lieutenant Jones said, the MCSO began looking for ways to enhance enforcement of the law in those areas. They happened upon the STEP grant program and applied. The grant was approved. Since some of the accidents involved commercial motor vehicles, Matthews suggested they apply for the CMV grant as well. It too was approved. Jones says the CMV grant will allow for better monitoring of truck traffic in the county to deter speeding, running stop lights or signs, and other infractions of traffic laws.
Despite the additional law enforcement presence, Jones insists the effort will not just be about writing more tickets. "It is about visibility and making contacts with people who are committing traffic violations and just trying to get a deputy presence out there to slow people down and have them pay more attention in those areas. If they see our units out there patrolling those areas and stopping people, hopefully they will be more mindful to stop at those stop signs, obey the speed limits and things like that. A little traffic infraction can end up in a fatal accident."
Jones says the extra patrols in the problem areas north of Dumas will begin in November in time for the holiday traffic surge.