In October 2020, local news reported that, at 2:30 in the morning, there had been a two-car “wrong-way” accident in Victoria County, Texas. The driver of the oncoming vehicle, a resident of Houston, died; the “wrong-way” driver was arrested at the scene, charged with intoxicated manslaughter and “driving while intoxicated” (DWI). Just four weeks later, there was another “wrong-way” car crash at 2:30 a.m., this one in Sugarland, Texas. Once again, the oncoming driver was fatally injured, while the wrong-way driver was to be arrested for a DWI.
What's notable is not just the eerie similarity of both tragedies, but that both took place on Texas's US-59—which is consistently considered one of the most dangerous, lethal highways in the United States. And of the fatal accidents, most occur in Harris County. Furthermore, of all accidents that happen on US-59, 43% of them are allegedly related to drunk driving—that's twice the national average and one of the highest rates in the country.
Whether involving injury to property or people, those involved in a DWI involving an accident will face much more severe charges than those pulled over under suspicion of DWI without an accident.
Let's review some issues relating to why US-59 seems to be so known for DWIs and related accidents and why it is so crucial that you have a DWI Specialist for your defense if you are accused.
US Highway 59 is a highway that stretches 631 miles across Texas, beginning in Laredo, continuing through Houston, and ending in Texarkana, at the Texas-Arkansas border. For much of the highway, the speed limit is 75 mph.
The section of US-59 connecting southwest Houston to Downtown is one of the busiest freeways in the United States, with an estimated 371,000 cars on it each day.
Sheer volume is, of course, a factor in the number of accidents that will occur on a freeway: The more cars on the road, the more likely an accident will occur. However, traffic slows down cars. Drivers on US-59 at 5 pm on a weekday are likely to be driving around 40 mph, while drivers on that same road at 8 pm on Saturday are driving 60-70 mph. Thus the analysis has found that rush-hour type accidents are common, but less likely to be severe. It's when there are few cars on the road—such as the middle-of-the-night—that drivers are going much faster, and the accidents at these times are more likely to be catastrophic.
A Road By Any Other Name
Houstonians know that the US-59 is “the Southwest Freeway” from the south and it's “Eastex Highway” in the northeast, but Houston's newcomers or oldtimers may be confused about the actual name of the highway: Is the road named US-59, or is it the I-69? Actually, both are correct, once you're in the Houston area.
Beginning in 2012, the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) began renaming the portion of US-59 that runs through the Houston area as I-69. The TTC began by renaming a 35-mile section of the highway, running south from Liberty County line to Houston's IH-610 North Loop. It followed this up just a few months later by re-designating a 28.4-mile section from the West Loop, in Rosenberg. However, it took TTC another three years to rename the 11-mile gap that ran between the North Loop south and the West Loop.
Therefore, in highway vernacular, US-59 and I-69 run “concurrently” in the Houston area. In the real world, that means is that they are the same road. Therefore, while I-69 is more specific in describing its location, either term is actually correct.
Ongoing Construction on the I-610 Loop
I-69 South and I-610 West have had a long history of traffic congestion. In hopes of alleviating it, the Texas Department of Transportation decided to approve expansion of the interchange. In December 2017, construction began. In June 2020, the first portion of this work was completed—with the opening of new southbound exits on the I-610.
While the project was originally expected to be finished in 2022, more recent estimates are that the project will not be completed until 2024.
In the meantime, construction's impact—ranging from reduced lanes to closed connectors—will continue to be a burden for Houston area commuters who do not have many good alternatives to US-59.
For regular commuters, if it seems as if the Loop traffic has been even worse since construction began, you're right. In 2017, the West Loop was Texas' second-most congested highway, but, in 2020, the I-610 West Loop has the dubious distinction of being ranked as the most congested highway in all of Texas.
But it's important to remember that construction isn't just a pain because of increased traffic. It also may be a contributing factor to accidents.
For example, the US-59 construction has meant that crews have moved and re-striped lanes; off-ramps have been closed. In other words, drivers may be lost, disoriented, and more prone to making sudden moves.
Another concern: If you have been charged with a DWI in a section of highway that is currently being worked on, you can also face an additional charge of reckless driving in a construction zone. That can result in additional fines and a possible jail sentence.
The Impact of a DWI
A DWI can impact every aspect of your life. However, it is important to remember that a criminal charge is not a conviction. People can and do win a DWI defense.
For example, while construction can lead to increased DWI charges, the poor state of the road during construction might make an accident more likely to occur. Expert DWI attorneys know how specific or changing road conditions impact accidents. They understand how traffic patterns or a road's reputation may impact the police's DWI enforcement tactics and more.
That's why a DWI defendant needs the most skilled attorney available.
One of the best DWI lawyers in Houston, Doug Murphy brings 20 years of experience in the courtroom in DUI defense. Annually heralded as one of the Best Lawyers in America by US News & World Report, Murphy is one of only two attorneys in the state of Texas who is Board Certified in both Criminal Law and DWI Defense. Rated as “Preeminent” by AV, Murphy brings 20 years of experience in the courtroom, as he also serves as the Dean of the National College for DUI Defense conducted at Harvard Law School. He previously served on the board of directors and as co-chair of the DWI Committee with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
If you face DWI charges in Texas, contact Doug Murphy’s office today to discuss the case and begin working on the defense.