Texas Department of Transportation and Pilot Point police officials say they have resolved the communication problem that caused frustration and contributed to a series of wrecks after an unannounced lane shift in the construction zone on U.S. 377.
Both lanes are scheduled to be shifted to new pavement in the center of the roadway on Monday, according to TxDOT.
Northbound and southbound traffic had both been traveling in two, side-by-side lanes on the northbound side of the road since February. On Wednesday afternoon last week, a foreman with contractor Jagoe-Public Co. of Denton shifted southbound traffic across the construction to the southbound shoulder without any warning or notification to the city or local media.
Police Chief Ric Sadler said he found out when his officers began calling him, saying cars were pulling out into oncoming traffic and drivers were traveling both directions in the same lane.
“One of the officers called me and alerted me that we had traffic moving southbound on the west side of the road as well as traffic still going southbound on the east side of the road,” Sadler said. “So we had multiple lanes of southbound traffic spread apart out there. We still had people pulling out like they were used to, to get to the other side of the road.”
Sadler said TxDOT had previously told him the switch would happen later than it did.
“We had received communication from the state that very morning that the switch would occur the 10th,” Sadler said. “I think it was a miscommunication.”
Sadler and another officer responded and began directing drivers to the correct lanes.
Changeable message signs were placed north and south of the construction zone on U.S. 377 the day of the switch alerting drivers arriving to town from either direction, but none were installed for people already in town.
Michelle Releford, spokesperson for TxDOT said in an email that the signage complied with state requirements but said, “There are some areas that could be improved.”
“TxDOT is making an effort to keep the city better informed of all major operations on the job so that they can provide their own media blasts. Our communications on this traffic switch could have been better and this has been addressed,” Releford said.
Several crashes occurred that day including one that injured a 20-year-old woman who was transported to the hospital by Pilot Point paramedics. A 49-year-old Aubrey woman pulled out from a parking lot on the west side of the road in front of oncoming traffic near South Jefferson Street. She reportedly told the responding officer she was unaware of the change.
Another accident happened the next day for the same reason. A 42-year-old Pilot Point man drove straight through the new southbound lane, broadsiding an SUV and causing it to ram the guardrail. No injuries were reported.
On Saturday, a 76-year-old Sanger man was northbound and attempted to turn left onto North Washington Street directly in front of an oncoming vehicle. Both then crashed into an SUV waiting on North Washington at the stop sign. There were no injuries in that wreck.
Residents took to social media to vent their frustration at the city, local media and the construction contractor.
“Love that traffic changed without notice and the great contractor that has caused confusion since the beginning of construction. Someone needs to show the contractor how to do their job safely and properly,” Mark Miller said.
“You would think the city of Pilot Point and/or the Post Signal would send a tweet or [Facebook] post. Why didn't the city use their little telephone program to notify the citizens?” Tandy Colburn said.
Others said they are willing to do anything to avoid the area.
“I avoid going to Pilot Point when at all possible – better to drive much farther to go around it or do business elsewhere. The construction is ridiculous and seems to never end,” Wendye Gardiner said.
Sadler said he is in direct communication with TxDOT, which is in contact with the contractor. He said they meet every Tuesday and has a follow up meeting with state officials Friday to ensure the Monday shift will occur as planned.