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Midland officials look at what it will take to prevent car crashes and traffic deaths across the Tall City

Mitch Borden
Marfa Public Radio
Downtown Midland.

Midland officials are setting out to make it safer to drive in the city by committing to Vision Zero, a process to improve road conditions across Midland with the goal of preventing any traffic fatalities from occurring by 2050.

Beginning last summer, Midland’s Vision Zero Safety Task Force set out to conduct a comprehensive study of the community’s roads, which revealed that thousands of crashes take place on city streets every year. This process led to the creation of a comprehensive safety action plan that local leaders hope will help reduce accidents across the community.

Michele Hagemann is the city of Midland’s grant writer and leads the task force that put the safety plan together. She explained, “Vision Zero is essentially a global campaign where we’re committing to trying to eliminate all roadway fatalities.”

Hagemann says she was shocked to see the number of crashes recorded in Midland from 2018-2022, especially on roads with lower speed limits.

“We had, I believe, it was [about] 600 crashes on Andrews Highway, just between Midkiff and Wall, [which] was crazy for me because again you’re only going [around] 35-45 miles per hour,” she said.

The hundreds of crashes Hagemann is referring to were recorded on a small stretch of Andrews Highway, an important thoroughfare running through the city that’s used to get to restaurants, grocery stores and the community's hospital. According to Hagemann, one of the main factors driving accidents across the city is Midlanders consistently blowing through stop lights.

Hagemann said, “If you live here you know it’s pretty crazy just going from one side of the city to the other where it used to take 10 minutes, now it takes 30. And, I keep going back to it, but the amount of red light running is truly an issue.”

Eighty-four people died on city streets and there were 314 accidents where someone was believed to be seriously injured from 2018-2022.

Hagemann and her colleagues found that in Midland, the number of crashes caused by a driver running a red light or stop sign was 22% higher than the state’s average. Lindsey Adams, who’s the city’s intergovernmental relations officer and serves on the safety task force, said it became clear that drivers ignoring stop signs and stop lights is a huge problem.

“I think people here call it an orange light, it’s barely red. So, they’re like ‘Oh, I’ll just run it so I won’t have to wait however many minutes,” she said.

The driver of this trend, Adams explained, is the major population growth Midland has gone through in recent years causing longer waits at stop lights. Between 2010-2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Midland County’s population grew by over 30,000 people.

Adams said, “We weren’t really investing in the infrastructure which has now led us to [having] areas where there are these long cues at red lights.”

Every year, Midland needs to invest over $35 million annually to maintain and improve local roads, and there is a growing list of needed updates.

Adam’s pointed to Andrews Highway as an area where it can be difficult to find a safe place to cross the street, which can force people to risk wading into traffic because “we haven’t put in the infrastructure.”

Some of the ways the city is looking at making roads safer is adding things like crosswalks, more visible signs, sidewalks, bike lanes, as well as installing radar detectors to help enforce traffic laws. Now, the city is applying for federal funding to help take on these kinds of projects.

“The expectation should be for our residents to be able to travel from home to the grocery store to daycare to school and then to work and get there safely,” Adams said, “and then later in the day arrive back home safely.”

In April, the Midland City Council unanimously approved moving forward with recommendations the task force laid out in its safety action plan. But this will be a years long effort that will entail educating Midlanders about safe driving practices, and improving roads and other infrastructure — all in order to prevent anyone else from dying on city streets.

The task force is continuing to refine its comprehensive safety action plan and is currently accepting public input on the report and its recommendations.

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.