Panhandle's Deadliest Highways; Part One

If you bring up any of these highwaysâ??Highway 136, 287, US 83, or FM 1061â??the immediate reaction from locals is a grimace or a groan or a quick acknowledgment of how dangerous those roads really are.

In the past five years, Highway 136 between Amarillo and Borger has seen 23 deaths.

However, State Highway 136 is just one of the roads that TxDOT has put money into in the past to make improvements. Characterized by long stretches of empty land, narrow shoulders, low visibility in areas, and short passing lanes, it only takes a driver a little while to realize that a minor mistake could mean a major accident.

â??Historically, most of our crashes have occurred on those two lane highways. But on those back roads, youâ??ve got to remember, thereâ??s farmers, thereâ??s animals, the speeds are different, most people donâ??t wear their seatbelts. So the chances of having that crash on the back road is greater and itâ??s going to take much longer for help to get to you,â?? said Texas Highway Patrol Trooper Chris Ray.

Locals in the area of highway 136 collectively agreed about the dangers of the highway and many told stories of losing loved ones or being in dangerous situations themselves while driving the highway.

â??Iâ??ve known two or three of them thatâ??ve been killed in there closer to Fritch,â?? said Barbara Adkins, an area local. â??They just go over that hill and people come off those lake roads out there and they donâ??t even stop. Thereâ??s no warning signs for them to stop.â??

She says low visibility on the roads, not even lighting or signs at night to direct lake-goers or out-of-towners on how to stay aware on the roads, and the high speed limit all contribute to the highwayâ??s danger.

â??You donâ??t see some people coming. The speed needs to be cut down. A lot of [these crashes] could be avoided if it wasnâ??t 75 miles an hour,â?? said Adkins.

Area shop-owner, Brian Baker, said he refuses to take Highway 136 when traveling from Fritch to Borger because he does not want to risk his life or that of a family member by traveling that road.

â??Being out here on the outside of town in between Amarillo and Fritch, we see quite a bit of itâ?¦18 wheelers, cars, what not, either speeding or passing on the outside lane, we see a lot of accidents out here,â?? said Baker. â??I think it needs to be widened at least. At least go another lane or so, just to give that extra lane in case something does happen to give you room to react a little bit because youâ??ve got literally canyons on both sides for about 20 miles. So itâ??s kind of hard to pull off if youâ??ve got an emergency. Itâ??s a rough road for sure.â??

TxDOT Traffic Specialist, Tracey Tellman, said that TxDOT has several campaigns reminding drivers of how they can stay safe while driving, especially on some of the Panhandleâ??s two-lane highways.

â??Statewide, we know that about 40 percent of our crashes involve a distracted driver,â?? said Tellman. â??When you are on a long stretch of highway, there are not a lot of other distractions, so you tend to be distracted by things in your vehicle. Itâ??s easy to get drowsy, to stop paying attention. So you need to be super aware of that and be prepared. Turn up the radio, get some fresh air, whatever you need to do to make sure that youâ??re paying attention.â??

TxDOT representative, Paul Braun, said that after every crash the company examines the highway to see if money can be put into projects to make the road safer. However, most crashes could be prevented or simply due to driver behavior.

â??Every time we have a fatal crash here in the panhandle, we have a safety review team take a look to see if there is anything that can be done to improve that stretch of highway to make it even safer,â?? said Braun. â??A lot of those accidents really depend on driver behavior.â??