STAFF WRITER CONNIE SWINNEY
SPICEWOOD — Leah Hughes of Spicewood was headed back to work at her construction job in Spicewood on Texas 71 when the gravel truck came up behind her.
She had stopped her eastbound Chevrolet Tahoe in the left lane of the 6600 block of the highway and was waiting for oncoming traffic to clear before turning into the business’s parking lot.
“My worst fears were yesterday (May 10),” she said. “He hit me from behind.”
One of two eastbound gravel trucks traveling side by side struck her left bumper, spinning the Tahoe around, then collided with the front driver’s side of her vehicle.
“It happened so quickly. I was boxed in,” Hughes said. “He ended up going into oncoming traffic.”
Approaching vehicles managed to avoid colliding with the gravel hauler.
The speed limit on that stretch of road is 70 mph with the left-lane designated for passing only.
“He had plenty of time to slow down or move over,” Hughes said. “Obviously, a (center) turn-lane would be great.”
Hughes has lived in the area for four years, worked at the company for the past two years, and watched how the community has evolved.
“It’s so unreal. The traffic is so much worse now in both directions,” she said. “The whole 71 corridor is so dangerous.”
Being in the construction business, Hughes said she understands the need for the haulers but hopes highway officials might weigh the cost of potential lost lives against the price tag of enhanced safety improvements.
“It could have been so much worse. We’re always aware of this,” she said. “We’re just sitting ducks.”
Within the past five years, the Texas 71 corridor from the U.S. 281 intersection to the Travis County line has grown from one or two to more than a half-dozen businesses connected to the mining and rock crushing industry.
During that time period, emergency crews have been responding to an increasing number of collisions.
This month, Burnet County officials submitted a request to be considered for federal highway fuel tax funding for more safety measures such as a turn-lane, egress/ingress lanes, and road widening along this stretch of Texas 71.
However, the area of the crash, which is populated with at least three nearby concrete plants and one asphalt plant, failed to make the list to be forwarded to the Texas Department of Transportation.
“I see the concrete plants and quarries coming in. We’re in construction. We use them,” Hughes said. “It’s necessary. You have to have concrete, but it’s a lot of plants in one area.”
Even though she walked away without major injuries, the crash changed her perspective on her daily commutes.
“I think I will just go past (my job), turn around, and then come back and turn right,” she said. “I don’t know that I can just sit there in the future waiting to turn left.”