Fatal damage in Texas 31 between Kilgore and Tyler has increased this year after several years of fewer road deaths known for a long time as “Bloody 31”.
In 2016, the stretch of road between FM 1639 and Loop 323 in Tyler saw seven fatal shipwrecks that killed eight people. Then the number of fatal crashes declined after the Texas Department of Transportation made road safety improvements, including the expansion of Texas 31 to create more lanes. In 2018 and 2020, the stretch of road saw no fatal accidents. A shipwreck killed one person in 2019, according to the News-Journal.
“They’ve made significant improvements to 31 over the years,” said Ryan Riley, head of Kilgore’s mostly voluntary rescue unit, which helps respond to Texas 31 accidents along with Emergency Services District 2 staff. “There used to be a lot of fatalities on the road. The improvements they made, by expanding it, have significantly reduced accidents.”
This year, however, as of Aug. 4, the road has seen six fatal shipwrecks that killed nine people, including one in May that killed four people, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. Two boys aged 3 and 5 and two adults were killed when a vehicle heading east crossed the lane heading west and attacked another vehicle.
TxDOT is planning a project that can help prevent such accidents, but funding has not been identified and is years away from construction, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
“TxDOT has preliminary plans to widen National Highway 31 from Loop 323 in Tyler City, east to FM 1639 in Gregg County,” says TxDOT’s online project tracker. “The project widens the existing two-lane road to a four-lane divided highway with flats and depressed medians to solve safety problems along the corridor …
• Extension of a two-lane road to a four-lane road with medium to flat and depressed
• Redesign of road alignments to meet current design standards
• The addition of curbs and gutters to built-up areas
The project will require the acquisition of new rights of way from adjacent owners. “
Riley speculated that the increase in road fatalities this year could be the result of more people leaving the pandemic, which travels for fun and work, for example.
“I think it’s more than an influx of off-road drivers,” he said. Riley also added that “distracted driving,” with people using their phones and texting, is also a “major” contributor to many of the accidents.