Kan. Highway Department Taking Another Look at Safety Barriers

August 21, 2007

A spate of deadly cross-over crashes has pushed the Kansas Department of Transportation to re-examine its policy for installing safety barriers in highway medians.

Highway engineers said Kansas highways were designed with wide enough medians to give drivers who lose control of their vehicles enough room to recover without crashing. Now, they want to know if that design is losing its effectiveness as traffic volumes increase.

“We will try to determine if the safety benefit of a wide median has diminished and, if so, has it diminished to the point that additional safety features should be considered?” said Jerry Younger, assistant secretary for KDOT.

The department announced the review Friday after three fatal crashes, including two in the Kansas City area and one near McPherson.

The state generally doesn’t install barriers in medians more than 50 feet wide, like on Interstate 435 where a fiery crash killed three people last weekend when a van crossed an 84-foot grassy median.

There were 124 cross-over collisions in Kansas from 2002 to 2006. Twenty-five people were killed in those crashes, and 202 people were hurt.

“We are open to looking at these crashes and seeing if there’s anything we need to change that might improve safety. I’d hate to speculate on what might change,” said Dave Church, chief of KDOT’s traffic engineering bureau.

A KDOT spokesman said any discussion about median changes likely will include the use of guardrail cable, which is used extensively in Missouri and credited with reducing cross-over crashes on key highways.

Kansas officials have said the state doesn’t use guardrail cable because it tends to give more than concrete barriers, and it requires more upkeep.

Jim Brewer, the engineering manager in KDOT’s design bureau, said earlier this week that guardrail cable can stretch out into an oncoming lane even if a vehicle is ensnared in the wire.

Brewer didn’t rule it out in the future, saying there might be a case where cable guardrails are warranted.

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