E. Texas oil boom brings traffic troubles

JOAQUIN, TX (KTRE) - It's called the Haslem Strip. On the busy stretch of U.S. 84 in Joaquin, one saltwater truck after another converge on multiple saltwater disposal sites. Some drivers go fast. Too fast.

"The speed limit is 50," Shelby County Pct. 3 Constable Billy Hearnsberger said. "See there, here comes a 61. A 60. And that's even after him coming through all the signs that caution for construction ahead, workers ahead and single lane traffic ahead."

The constable's enforcement helps slow traffic.

So will a red light installed by the Texas Department of Transportation.

It comes after numerous wrecks and a fatality which gave the road a reputation for danger.

"If not the most dangerous portion of roadway in the county, it would certainly be right up there with them," Hearnsberger said.

Truck drivers collect their cargo from oil and gas sites in Texas and Louisiana, where the productive Haynesville shale runs.

The industry leads to new business, increases sales tax collections and creates jobs regionwide.

To some, the industry can do no wrong.

"Shelby County especially welcomes all the oil industry into our community," Shelby County Judge Rick Campbell said.

The price to taxpayers are torn-up roads and heavy truck traffic.

County leaders strive to convince the industry to meet them halfway.

"And they are helping us with our roads and actually helping buy rock and so they are being good corporate citizens," Campbell said.

When lives are lost that no longer really matters.

But on most days, Nacogdoches Loop 224 truckers drive well within the speed limit.

It's a behavior Stallion Oilfield Holdings likes from its drivers.

The Houston-based company employs 20 full-time safety personnel.

"Any driver of commercial motor vehicles we do a three-year background," Mark Cormier, regional safety advisor for Stallion Oilfield Holdings, said. "It's also a safety and also a drug and alcohol history."

Beyond that, Stallion requires its drivers to go through an internal training program with a mentor.

"Someone we feel is confident that's been with the organization for a period of time," Cormier said.

The Department of Public Safety reports fewer accidents and violations involving oil and gas industrial trucks since special task forces started targeting violators.

"The things people may have gotten by with in the past, I think are being closely looked at now," Cormier said. "Which is a good thing."

East Texas highways to the busy Haslem Strip can be made safer.

It takes defensive driving by all motorists, stepped up enforcement and a willingness to share the roadways for everyone's best interest.

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