Big Rig Truck Accidents Increasing in Houston

If you're listening to this broadcast from you car as you head home from work, the last thing you want to hear is that there's a major accident on a freeway that affects your commute. And if it seems like that's happening in Houston more and more lately, it's not your imagination. Bill Stamps reports.
Depending on where you're going, a simple 20 minute drive can turn into an hour or more during Houston rush hour. But many commuters get used to it. It's those accidents involving large trucks that really wreak havoc on the city because they can shut down an entire freeway for hours — sometimes, much of the day. So why does it take so long to open a freeway back up? This is Transtar's Dinah Massey.

"If it's an 18 wheeler, first you've got to get a heavy duty wrecker out there to upright that 18 wheeler. You've got to have special equipment. You gotta get that guy on scene and he's gotta drive through all those angry people to get there on the scene; these things take time."

A little time is one thing, but sometimes a truck overturns in the afternoon and the freeway is still closed later that night. Massey says the process involves more than just lifting a truck.

"It's what's spilled. If it's a hazardous spill — the 610 and 59 yesterday there was isopropyl alcohol onboard, highly flammable material — you don't just run out there and pick that up by hand, you gotta get cranes or whatever equipment necessary to put that back on. If it's a spill like several months ago, they lost some oil sludge. That had to be cleaned up by hand. You had to throw kitty litter on it, sweep it up by hand and load it back onto another vehicle, then you had to upright the first vehicle to get it off the scene. These things are just major undertakings."

If you think there's been more of these types of incidents this year on the roads, you're right. Last year, there were 71 calls for heavy duty wreckers — the kind that can lift big rig trucks. This year is only half over and they've already had a 105 of those calls. Most of the cases are said to be driver error, but why so many this year?

"My speculation would be that the economy is starting to pick up. And that means that there's more commerce, more stuff coming from the port, more stuff coming in from Mexico and more trucks moving through."

It may not feel like it to motorists, but Massey says Houston actually cleans up its major wrecks faster than most cities, and that's because of all the different agencies that have people working side-by-side at Transtar monitoring the traffic. She says Houston does it so well that other countries such as China have sent people here to see how we handle our traffic. So the next time it takes you two hours to get home because of an accident, just remember: if you were somewhere else like Dallas or Chicago, it might take even longer.

Bill Stamps, KUHF News.