Drivers traveling through the intersection of Loop 390 and Hwy 154/Van Zandt Avenue in Marshall will see a new safety precaution on Thursday in the form of a newly activated red light, Texas Department of Transportation officials announced this week.
A red light at the intersection will be switched on by TxDOT Thursday to increase safety at the busy intersection.
The addition of the light comes almost exactly two years after nearby East Texas Baptist University President Blair Blackburn requested the City of Marshall and TxDOT begin looking at the possibility of adding the light as an increased safety measure for his students and community members.
“The installation of this traffic signal is a blessing to our ETBU family and the Marshall community,” Blackburn said in a statement. “ETBU and the Marshall City Commission partnered together to petition TxDOT to install this traffic signal more than a year ago, due to the frequency of motor vehicle collisions, injuries, and fatalities at this intersection. A few of these accidents have involved ETBU students, staff, and faculty. With this petition, TxDOT did a thorough study of the area, and through support from our campus community and the Marshall City Commission, approved this installation of the traffic signal.”
TxDOT said the new light will also feature video detection.
“The signal light has the flashing yellow arrow light and video detection that will identify traffic approaching the intersection and change the signal accordingly to help traffic move more efficiently,” TxDOT’s Atlanta District Traffic Engineer Rebecca Wells said.
After Blackburn’s request, the Marshall city commissioners voted to approve $80,000 in funding for the new TxDOT light.
In addition to the new light, additional left turn lanes and additional street lights were also added for safety.
Following Blackburn’s 2017 request to TxDOT, the department began a traffic study, which is required by law before any traffic control action can be taken.
“This is a dangerous intersection,” Blackburn said in 2017. “We have had several students injured in accidents at this intersection (in 2017). “Motorists on the east side of Loop 390 on Van Zandt Avenue/Hwy 154, who attempt to enter onto Loop 390 have a difficulty in visible southern and northern sight clearances due to the rise in slope to the south and the sharp curve and wooded right of way to the north. The situation presents a blind situation for the motorists facing west on Van Zandt Avenue.”
There have been several deaths and injuries at the intersection during the past several years, Blackburn said.
TxDOT Atlanta District Public Information Officer Marcus Sandifer said in 2017 that certain justifications or “warrants” must be met for a traffic control action to be ordered.
“First, we do a traffic count on the major and minor highway involved,” he previously said. “We look to see if there is any pedestrian activity, the number of school children who cross the intersection on foot. We obtain a crash history, and we look to determine if there would be any delays to the existing traffic flow if a signal were put in.”
Four total crashes resulting in five injuries were reported at the intersection in 2017, the year Blackburn made his request.
According to the crash report from TxDOT in 2017, a total of 30 crashes had occurred at the intersection from Jan. 1, 2010, until Sept. 12, 2017. Of those 30 crashes, two people died, three people suffered “incapacitating injuries” and 12 people suffered “non-incapacitating injuries,” with two of the reported injuries being classified as “unknown.”
One of those 2016 crashes involved John Hamilton’s daughter, a sophomore at ETBU who suffered a concussion during the wreck.
“The driver of the car she was in did not see a northbound approaching car and pulled out,” Hamilton said previously. “We have no way of knowing the driver’s speed. The visibility is part of the problem as there are a couple of signs somewhat obstructing the view and the road elevation changes.”
In 2011, the intersection saw the most vehicle wrecks with seven total crashes, resulting in one “incapacitating injury,” three “non-incapacitating injuries,” and seven “possible injuries.”
The TxDOT crash report showed no pedestrian or cyclist related incidents at the intersection from 2010 to 2017.
Blackburn said athletic teams and groups traveling to the university are forced to use the intersection because they can’t fit under the train overpass on Grove Street.
“Due to the low height of the Texas Pacific Railroad Bridge on FM 1997 off of State Highway 80 in Marshall, Van Zandt Avenue/FM 154 from Loop 390 is the only western and southern routes to the ETBU campus for any vehicle over 10 ft. 9 in. high,” he said.
“This intersection is highly traveled, serving as one of the major access points by ETBU students, staff, faculty and guests to reach the university campus from the west,” Blackburn said in his request to TxDOT.