The Eagle Ford Shale oil boom has been a boom for the South Texas economy but it is turning into a nightmare when it comes to the impact it is having on rural roads.
A dramatic increase in heavy truck traffic is tearing up the once lightly traveled farm-to-market roads faster than they can be repaired.
The Texas Department of Transportation plans to convert some portions of those paved roads to gravel in an effort to increase safety but that is not a popular idea with many.
"I believe we'll have more accidents. The oil field doesn't slow down," said La Salle County Judge Joel Rodriguez.
Rodriguez thinks TxDOT is going down the wrong road with its plans to convert 83 miles of paved rural roads to gravel in the Eagle Ford region.
Tuesday afternoon Rodriguez took State Senator Judith Zaffirini and TxDOT officials on a tour of one of those roads in his county, FM 469.
"It is not necessary to gravel this road at this time," Rodriguez said. "It's an FM road that I believe is in good condition that should not be converted to gravel.
While the increased truck traffic is quickly deteriorating the roads, residents and elected officials can't fathom converting them to gravel.
"No one I know is excited about it in fact those who are excited about it are negative about it. They are very concerned and part of the problem is that there was no communication," Senator Zaffirini said. "They also believe that converting these roads to gravel will affect the economy, the efficiency, the productivity of all the industry involved in this area and the safety of the people who travel these roads."
TxDOT spokesman Bob Kaufman said there is a misconception about the type of gravel roads being considered. He said they won't be dusty roads with gravel flying everywhere, they will be wider and flatter, and reduced speed limits will increase safety.
"There's this emulsified solution on the ground that keeps the dust down, it's very easy for passage, it's very wide," Kaufman said. "What we're trying to do is turn these roads into much flatter, safer passage ways. So we're going from about 12 to 15 feet, to almost 24 to 28 feet wide which makes it much safer especially for the trucks that are going back and forth at a pretty high rate of speed."
Kaufman said a lack of funding is driving the need to convert the roads. He said TxDOT needs more than a billion dollars to fix all the roads impacted by the energy production but the legislature only gave the agency $225 million. Kaufman added, converting the roads is a temporary fix.
"The goal is to provide a safe solution right now," Kaufman said. "When a lot of this production winds down, and we don't really know when that will be, the goal is to be able to repave the roads if the funding is available."
Kaufman said TxDOT officials will continue to work with state lawmakers and local elected officials to work out any alternatives.