Updated: Wednesday, 06 Jan 2010, 6:28 PM EST
Published : Wednesday, 06 Jan 2010, 6:28 PM EST
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Michigan's first winter with new cable guardrails has made the Department of Transportation "seriously consider" changing how the agency installs the guardrails in the future, a regional MDOT spokesman told 24 Hour News 8.
One issue: how close the cable guardrails come to the road itself.
But on that point, the state's options are somewhat limited.
The ground in the median can be too soft to hold up the rails, said Nick Schirripa, spokesman for MDOT's southwest region. And putting barriers in the median can let a car fly over the rails, he said.
Cars driving off the road are supposed to hit the barriers so they won't head into oncoming traffic, potentially causing a deadly crash.
Another possible change in policy is more breaks in the barriers.
"So vehicles can turn around," Schirripa explained. "State police, ambulances, tow trucks, fire trucks -- they all need access to both sides of the highway."
The new cables are not blocking traditional, paved turnaround points, the spokesman said, but in an emergency, other access points can be necessary.
The remaining issue is whether the state needs to have cable runs on both sides of a highway.
"Can we get away with one run on one side for longer stretches and get away from two runs?" Schirripa said. "Can we move them closer to the middle?"
All the concerns, he said, have come up just in the past couple of weeks as West Michigan winter has put the cable guardrails to the test.
Between Dec. 29 and Jan. 5, the state counts roughly 90 vehicle crashes on I-94 from Van Buren County to the Benton Harbor area, Schirripa said. He said police agencies are reporting more property damage crashes, some of which are tied to the cable guardrails.
But Schirripa said the state has determined at least two of the cars in those crashes would have ended up crossing the median, creating the potential for a deadly crash.
"Neither one of us wants to spend $5,000 to fix our car," he said. "And we understand that. But the safety is bigger picture than individual people and individual vehicles."
When the rails are damaged, the state first looks to the driver's insurance company for payment. If a driver has limited or no insurance, MDOT will end up covering the cost. A typical repair, when the cable itself remains intact, should only cost a few hundred dollars, Schirripa said.
The state has not tallied how much it has spent on cable repairs, he said, but repairing those barriers is much less expensive than repairs to a traditional metal guardrail.