I-85 cable barriers may prevent major wrecks
BY STEVEN BEARDSLEY
The Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) is taking action to prevent interstate ‘crossover’ wrecks, an increasingly common accident in which a vehicle crosses the median and strikes oncoming traffic in the opposite lane.
The department will install 36.4 miles of high-tension cable barriers along Interstate 85 from Highway 20 in Gwinnett County (Exit 115) through Jackson County to the Franklin County border. The barriers will run between lanes to prevent vehicles from reaching oncoming traffic.
“It’s almost like a steel rubber band,” explained DOT spokesperson Teri Pope. “The car will hit it, [the barrier] will stay taut and push the car back in the direction it came.”
The barrier consists of four high-tension woven steel wires held in place by vertical steel posts that are dug into a buried concrete foundation. At four feet high, the barrier should prevent most crossovers, except those in which vehicles are airborne, Pope said.
The department recently finished a similar installation along I-85 in Franklin and Hart counties that extended to the South Carolina border. Construction costs averaged almost $225,000 per mile for that project, considerably lower than typical DOT initiatives, such as repaving or widening roads. The project also finished seven months ahead of deadline.
Most importantly, Pope notes, that barrier is already working. During one weekend in May, the Franklin-Hart barrier stopped four separate accidents from turning into crossovers.
“They are obviously working where we have them installed,” Pope said.
DOT began installing the barriers five years ago, as they noticed an increase in crossover wrecks and the need for a structure between lanes. Pope says the increase in interstate traffic is one reason for the rise in the wrecks.
Jackson County Sheriff’s Office major David Cochran said drivers cross over for numerous reasons mechanical failure, sleepiness, intoxication, overcorrection attempting to avoid another wreck or even just failing to pay attention. At interstate speeds, the crossover cars are difficult to avoid, and the wrecks are especially deadly.
“The words we hear are ‘They came out of nowhere,” Georgia State Patrol senior trooper and spokesperson Larry Schnall said.
The crashes are more severe than other wrecks and often fatal to drivers and passengers. Hoschton teen Thomas Edward Brown was killed two weeks ago when, for unknown reasons, his car crossed the median as he was driving southbound near the Hamilton Mill exit and struck a tractor-trailer truck.
A fiery southbound crossover in mid-April killed the driver of that vehicle and resulted in a hazardous materials spill that shut down the interstate for hours near the Jefferson exit.
And in late September of last year, four individuals were killed when a southbound pickup truck crossed the median just north of Pendergrass and struck two cars, killing the driver of the pickup and three other individuals
“Typically a fire is present and an explosion is present, and there are more injuries and fatalities,” Schnall noted.
He said cable barriers are effective because they allow cars to “ricochet” back in the direction of traffic. Wrecks from the ricochet are much less severe than those from crossovers.
Cochran, who says his agency has seen a lot of crossovers in recent years, believes the barriers will make the Jackson County interstate much safer.
“I think it’s very effective,” he said. “…Anytime you can keep a vehicle from crossing over that’s a good thing.”
The barrier project is currently in the design phase, Pope said. The DOT hopes to begin construction in fiscal year 2008.