CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — KRIS 6 News promised to push for solutions and ask tough questions when we debuted our special investigation Facing Danger.
We pushed for answers while we spoke with State Representative Todd Hunter during his weekly appearance on the Veterans Round Table radio show on 1440 KEYS in Corpus Christi.
"On the safety, there's no doubt there's an issue," Hunter said of wrong-way drivers on the Harbor Bridge causing accidents resulting in fatalities.
KRIS 6 News originally discovered five fatalities over seven years caused by wrong-way drivers on the bridge. We have since learned that the number is now up to six, and we are still investigating other accidents.
The current Harbor Bridge will eventually be demolished, but delays, caused in part by pauses in construction due to safety issues, have pushed the opening of the new Harbor Bridge back several years from the original opening date.
"The harbor bridge — it has been a subject that keeps coming back," Hunter said. "The first goal, for everybody, if it needs pedal to the metal, safety and get done. Because, what we're seeing Pat, is not only the safety issue on getting in the wrong direction, but we're also seeing every time it's delayed, these incidents can happen more," Hunter said. "So the first goal is, let's get this project done. Second, I think full disclosure, this is the taxpayer's money going into this bridge. Full disclosure. Everything. A delay, a positive, if there's a safety issue, let's get it out to the public."
Given the delay in construction on the new Harbor Bridge, many public safety officials said some of the exits used by wrong-way drivers should be shut down. We asked Hunter if he supported the shutting down the exits.
"I'm not a safety expert and I don't know what the best thing is, but whatever we do, we need to expedite, Pat, all the options to the public," Hunter said. "We don't need to let this keep floating along. Is it closure? Is it a different way to get on and off? What do we do with the lighting system? Have we looked at the whole area? Whatever the option, that should be to the public ASAP, and what you've all done is shine the light. But the last thing you need is for this to be delayed. We don't need another incident around the bridge."
But, a concern for Veterans Round Table co-host Jerry Plemons is that the issue just keeps getting punted, until the new bridge opens.
"And, that's the concern Todd, is that somebody in Austin's saying, 'two years, the problem's going to go away when the new bridge is finished and that's two more years of potentially someone losing their life over this,'" Plemons said.
Hunter responded by promising no more delays in addressing safety concerns and said that he would also support public hearings.
"Yeah, I would support anything that opens up the public to have input," Hunter said. "My view is the public should be engaged and involved."
UPDATE: (Tuesday - February 28)
On Tuesday, State Representative Abel Herrero contacted KRIS 6 News and gave this statement:
"My thoughts and prayers are with the families affected by these tragic accidents. Public safety and transparency are of the utmost importance. It is imperative our community knows we are working with TXDOT and our local community to help implement appropriate mitigation measures to prevent further accidents. Our delegation will also demand TXDOT works more diligently to address these critical issues."
On Feb. 10, 6 Investigates sent a list of questions to TxDOT about the fatalities on the Harbor Bridge caused by wrong-way drivers dating back to 2015 and any proposed fixes by TxDOT.
TxDOT did not respond to our questions by the time part one aired on Feb. 15. On Wednesday, TxDOT answered. But, rather than answering the questions provided, the state agency provided a statement and said all questions were addressed.