10 KXAN investigations that made an impact this year

AUSTIN (KXAN) — This year, KXAN investigators dug deep to get you answers to many of your pressing questions and hold people in authority accountable. Here are 10 investigations that made a difference. To see all of KXAN's investigations, you can go online to the KXAN Investigations page.

1) TxTag Troubles 

KXAN investigators helped Texas drivers avoid paying a billion dollars in sudden, unexplained fees tacked onto their tollway billing accounts. KXAN crowdsourced for viewers’ bills, after which TxDOT ended ties with its aggressive collections vendor, capped fees and improved its system. 


What began with questions about a teenager’s violent death in police custody grew into a 10-month fight for records regarding officers’ actions and the discovery of a loophole in Texas law allowing police to withhold crucial evidence in cases like this. Police statewide have used this measure for decades to keep details from reporters, lawyers and loved ones looking for answers. This investigation fueled lawmakers, open records groups and families to craft legislation to close the loophole in 2019.

3) Messing with Texas 

A KXAN investigation caught Texas Department of Transportation workers operating an illegal dumpsite outside Austin. Following a tip, KXAN set up hidden cameras and caught state workers in the act of dumping truckloads of garbage, road waste, dead animals and oil sludge in an unlined pit. The reporting prompted a state environmental investigation, and TxDOT workers admitted the dumping went on for years. TxDOT was cited for violations of waste disposal laws and agreed to excavate 6,000 tons of waste and tainted soil.

4) Grave Enterprise

KXAN revealed a well-known Austin funeral home had sold hundreds of pre-paid funeral contracts but was unlicensed to do so for more than a decade. Now a half-million dollars are gone – and, after our coverage, the state’s department of banking is also investigating in hopes of getting people back their money. 

5) Oil Empire 

KXAN exposed undisclosed financial ties between Texas’ top oil regulator and the companies her commission regulates. As a result of our investigation, one state lawmaker vows to push for tougher transparency requirements at the Texas Railroad Commission.

6) Mowing over city rules

The City of Austin has a $4 million contract with a company to mow medians and city trails, but the work hasn’t been completed for months. The company points to trouble obtaining work visas for employees, yet email exchanges and invoices also reveal the contractor billing the city for jobs it never did. Meanwhile, the city code department continues holding citizens accountable for tall grass but isn't following its own rules.

7) America's fastest highway 

The State of Texas had a financial incentive from the builder of State Highway 130 to set its speed limit at 85 mph, the fastest highway in the nation – despite having no final safety study until after lawmakers approved the speed limit and the toll road opened. KXAN has found, since opening, there has been a history of speed-related, fatal crashes on SH 130 – a trend that could’ve been avoided, according to industry and traffic safety experts.

8) Austin's crumbling tower 

Scaffolding is covering the Austonian, a 56-story luxury residential skyscraper after a 6-foot piece of concrete broke off a balcony and came crashing down on its 10th story dog park. An inspection of the balconies by an outside engineering firm found they were “defective and negligently constructed.” The condo association sued the builders, which ended in a settlement that is covering the cost to repair all the balconies.

9) Via Air customer service

Austin’s newest airline had viewers complaining to KXAN over broken promises of refunds after canceled flights. After KXAN started investigating – and traveled to Florida to the carrier’s headquarters – Via Air promised to review its refund policy and the customers we spoke with started getting their money back.

10) High-risk bail jumpers

A KXAN investigation points out major concerns with the bond process in the Travis County court system, allowing high-risk suspects to walk free – and sometimes flee justice. We followed specific cases, and after our digging, a state lawmaker vowed to study the issue ahead of the next legislative session in order to file a bill to address the problem.

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