By Sean Wardwell

Killeen Daily Herald

BELTON - An intersection where a fatal traffic collision between a school bus and delivery truck occurred last month will get safety upgrades.

Since mid-January, the intersection of State Highway 95 and Farm-to-Market 93, near Little River-Academy, has been under review by the Texas Department of Transportation.

The early morning crash sent 32 people, mostly children, to the hospital. The bus driver, James Johnson, died from his injuries last week.

During a Bell County commissioners meeting Tuesday, Larry Colclasure, director of transportation operations for the state agency's Waco district, said the department routinely reviews intersections after crashes to see if safety improvements are necessary. "We look at sight distances at an intersection," he said. "Does a driver have enough time to cross a roadway?"

At the time of the collision, Harpin Myer, a trooper with the Department of Public Safety, said a Lowes semi-truck ran a stop sign in foggy conditions.

Colclasure said the intersection meets or exceeds current highway safety standards, with 700 feet of sight distance looking north to south and 1,800 feet looking east to west. He also presented accident data on the intersection for the past five years, which showed six crashes, not including the Jan. 17 incident.

Three crashes were right-angle collisions, much like the one in mid-January. The others were drivers sitting in the intersection waiting to make a left-hand turn.

"It's less than the statewide average (of 115 crashes) for FM roads," said Colclasure.

Little River-Academy resident Joe Craig asked Colclasure about the possibility of a stop sign with a flashing red light at the intersection.

"People from Little River travel that road. It's their main thoroughfare," said Craig. "People who aren't familiar with that roadway - there is nothing in fog conditions to give that warning."

Colclasure said flashing signals, which can cost up to $2,500 each, wouldn't work effectively at the intersection. But the state official offered other safety improvement suggestions, such as enlarging and replacing the stop signs; installing audible strips approaching the intersection; installing large signs alerting drivers about the intersection and reducing the speed limit from 60 mph to 55.

"I'm glad they evaluated the intersection. The results are the results," said Commissioner Richard Cortese. "It was important (the state agency) went out and reviewed the intersection."

Bell County Judge Jon Burrows said commissioners would instruct the county engineer to begin studying ways to implement the state agency's suggestions as soon as possible.

"Everyone wants to do something to improve the safety of that intersection," he said. "(The day of the crash) was a terrible day, but there were a lot of factors involved, such as foggy conditions and speed, that contributed to it."

The judge said there isn't a timeline or cost estimate for the improvements, but the county intends to complete the work as soon as possible.

"The changes of the signs and putting in the audible strips shouldn't take very long to do. The engineer will have to look at that and order the parts," said Burrows.

"There's statutory steps that need to be taken on changing the speed limit. I'm sure it won't take long."

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