Study: Cable barriers almost eliminate 'crossover' accidents

Monday, June 26, 2006

WARRENTON, Mo. -- A new study shows that the network of cables now spanning Interstate 70 between St. Louis and Kansas City is saving lives and reducing the number of vehicles crossing into oncoming traffic.

Out of 378 accidents in 2005 in which vehicles hit the cables, only 6 percent made it through, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

A cable barrier in Warren County was among the first to be installed on a stretch of I-70 that once was a common place for fatal accidents in the 1990s. MoDOT finished stringing more than 437 miles of the cable barriers across the state this month.

"Cables absorb some of the energy of the crash. We've been really impressed with it," state highway engineer John Miller said.

The I-70 cable system cost $20.5 million to fight so-called "crossover" crashes that killed more than 400 people between 1996 and 2005 and injured another 2,400 on intestates 44, 55 and 70.

The three metal wires attached to steel posts dug deep into the ground do the same thing as concrete barriers and cost half as much, MoDOT says. The cables generally grab and stop vehicles, while vehicles that hit concrete barriers tend to re-enter traffic.

Of the state's six crossover fatalities in 2005, four of them happened in places that lacked the barriers, the transportation department reported.

A recent report shows that the system prevented nearly all instances in which vehicles crossed the median and collided with vehicles in the opposite lanes.

The three-quarter-inch strands of cable cost about $100,000 per mile to install and $15,000 to $20,000 a year, per mile, to maintain, MoDOT said.

Lou Holtmann's wife, daughter, sister-in-law and nephew were killed in July 1996 in a crossover accident on I-44 in Franklin County, near Stanton.

Holtmann, 60, started a nonprofit organization, Citizens for Safe Medians, a campaign that has raised more than $50,000 to erect the barriers.

"We know the cables work," Holtmann told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Obviously, we are behind them."

Next on the list for continued barrier installation is I-44, 244 miles from St. Louis to Joplin, and I-29 between Kansas City and St. Joseph.


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, www.stltoday.com

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