Rural road among Austin’s deadliest

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A lot has changed in the 42 years since Fred Marvin purchased his home in rural southeast Austin off Farm to Market Road 812.  

“When we moved out here, there were only two houses that existed anywhere out here,” Marvin said.

Now, FM 812 is home to several small communities, businesses, and event centers including Circuit of the Americas, also known as COTA.

Marvin feels the development and growth on FM 812 has made traffic worse. However, there’s one thing that Marvin says hasn’t changed regardless of the increased traffic.

“For as long as I’ve lived here, there have been a lot of wrecks on that road,” he said. “People die on this road. Just recently someone died along 812 in this section right up here in broad daylight.”

Images of roadside memorials found along FM 812. (KXAN Photo/Dalton Huey)
Images of roadside memorials found along FM 812. (KXAN Photo/Dalton Huey)

The most recent fatal crash he’s referring to occurred on September 26 at 3:35 p.m., less than a mile from Marvin’s home.

KXAN was notified by the Texas Department of Public Safety when this fatal crash occurred and immediately recognized FM 812.  

KXAN had reported a fatal crash on FM 812 just two weeks prior on September 12.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation crash data, the most recent fatality marks the ninth fatal crash and tenth death on FM 812 so far in 2021.

“It’s a straight road,” Marvin said. “There’s no reason for these things to happen.”

With the number of fatal crashes occurring on this small Farm to Market road, KXAN took an in-depth look at what is happening.

DATA: Fatal roads broken down

FM 812 is a 21-mile road that stretches from U.S. Highway 183 in the small community of Pilot Knob to Farm to Market Road 20 in western Bastrop County.

It’s managed by the Austin District of TxDOT, which covers 9,476 lane miles across 11 counties, including Central Texas’ major corridors.

Thus far in 2021, 210 crashes resulting in more than 225 deaths have occurred on roads in TxDOT’s Austin District territory.   

Five roads in particular are responsible for almost half of these fatal accidents (40%).

Among the top five roads with the most fatal crashes in 2021 is FM 812 — a rural road that stands out among highways.

FM 812 has the fifth most fatalities in 2021 among all roads in the TxDOT Austin District. However, when you take additional measures in to account, FM 812 tops the charts for deadliest roads.

With nearly three times less daily traffic on average than State Highway 71 and approximately 13 times less traffic than Interstate 35, FM 812 currently has the highest percentage of fatal crashes in Central Texas.

Why is this happening?

KXAN looked into multiple possibilities to try to understand why these fatal crashes are occurring on FM 812.

According to TxDOT crash reports obtained by KXAN, there was not one consistent theme regarding the contributing factors leading these crashes or the time they occurred.

First, KXAN wanted to know if any of these fatal crashes occurred on days that corresponded with COTA events, since the venue is nearby.

Fred Marvin says COTA doesn’t have anything to do with it because “we had the deaths before COTA ever showed up.”

COTA declined to comment on the topic, and KXAN found that none of the fatalities in 2021 occurred on the same day as a COTA event.

Next, KXAN turned to TxDOT for answers and wanted to see if the state agency responsible for “ensuring the safety of the traveling public” had concerns about the safety of FM 812.

KXAN found TxDOT currently has seven construction projects for FM 812, three of which are safety improvement projects. Two will widen the roads and add lanes, and two are preventive maintenance projects.

According to TxDOT’s project tracker, one of the safety improvement projects had an estimated completion date of August 15, 2021, and construction is supposed to begin on the additional two safety projects within four years.

KXAN reached out to TxDOT and requested information about the circumstances and factors leading to the determination that safety improvement projects were necessary on FM 812, whether it is concerned about the rate of fatalities occurring on FM 812, and why there is a delay completing the current safety improvement project.

In response, TxDOT stated it “continuously looks for ways to improve safety of state roadways and has identified several safety improvement projects for FM 812.”

According to TxDOT, the current safety projects were identified by its traffic safety team based on crash trends along the corridor. One of the three current safety projects was delayed due to the climate as paving requires warm temperatures. This project has since been completed and the additional two safety projects are projected to begin in late 2022-2023.

“It is imperative that something be done to prevent these from happening at all,” Marvin said.

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