Guardrail changes in Harper raise eyebrows

The in basket: “Goolsby Snitworthy, who drives along Southworth Drive daily” (really, that’s what he wants to be called), writes, “Perhaps you could have your county road contacts explain to the folks why, as part of the reconstruction of Southworth Drive between the Harper Dock and Olympiad Drive, guard rails have been added along sections where they were not before and removed from other sections where they were before.

“It appears illogical to we non-road experts, but I suppose the county experts have what they think is a logical explanation for the guard rail changes.  I am certain others are puzzled by this development,” he said.

The out basket: I, too, was surprised that most of the project’s frontage, up against which the tide laps at high tide, has no guard rail, including in places that used to have it.

And, yes, the county does have an explanation.

Jeff Shea, county traffic engineer, says not all the planned guardrail has been installed yet but not every place that had it before will have it replaced.

Cones along the waterside shoulder from the Harper Dock south to Cambridge Road show where guardrail has yet to be installed, 270 feet of it. They’ve decided the need to bolt that guardrail to the seawall requires a special design being done now. That will add about $40,000 to the work, says Senior Program Manager Tina Nelson in public works..

“Guardrail itself is a hazard to motorists, especially motorcycles and bicycles,” Jeff said. “Guardrail is generally placed because it presents less hazard than the obstacle behind it,” in this case, water.

“Past guardrail locations do not necessarily dictate replacing a guardrail, if it is removed,” he said. The only other stretch of guardrail in the completed project, nearer Olympiad Drive, is required by the combination of the height of the rock wall behind it and the potential depth of water there, said Tina Nelson.

“We’ve researched our records and, other than vehicles that have hit the guardrail at the curve at the dock, there are no reported collisions with the guardrail previously placed there,” Jeff said.

“Environmental regulations and restrictions limit what can be done at that location. We are evaluating other methods, including barrier curbs and/or signs and markings, that can help delineate the road edge.”

One such change was approved by the county commissioners on Nov. 8. A suggestion of Commissioner Charolotte Garrido, it provides $52,352 to paint the shoulders brownish red when weather allows in the spring, says Tina. There is anecdotal evidence the visual impact of painted shoulders can slow traffic, she said. Neighbors who fought the widening often said they think it will increase speeds there.

Tina says even with the added cost of the painted shoulders, special guardrail design and reinforcement of the sea wall, the project will come in around $800,000, about $200,000 less than originally expected.

3 thoughts on “Guardrail changes in Harper raise eyebrows

  1. “One such change was approved by the county commissioners on Nov. 8. A suggestion of Commissioner Charolotte Garrido, it provides $52,352 to paint the shoulders blue when weather allows in the spring, says Tina. There is anecdotal evidence the visual impact of painted shoulders can slow traffic, she said.”

    In other words, the County has plenty of money. Disregard any upcoming protestations to the contrary.

  2. I too had spoken with the county engineering office and was told the gard rail was not needed because it was not required.

    The person I spoke with said that requirements are met by widening the shoulder and the drop at the edge would be inless than two feet of water.

    I don’t feel the requirements fit the situation. While the water depth at the edge may be 2 feet at mean high tide, we now it’s above that daily. In addition, the beach slopes away from the seawall and it a car were to go off the edge it would surely roll over and you’d be probably over 10 feet from the wall, possibly trapped in your car and upside down.

    One of their arguements proclaims that the old rails have not been needed because some one has not hit a rail on that stretch where they’ve negleted to replace them. That may be, however there are two differences now. One being a 2 degree slope to the road service for drainage and two, more of a curve in the road than existed before.

    The slight curve and the slope are a concern during the winter and the advent of black ice or snow. Any sliding on ice or snow will go down slope, even crowns can cause fits.

    Lastly, I’ll avoid coming down harper hill on such days, that water is COLD, at least in that case the car would most probably be upright where I could get out.

  3. This creates an extremely dangerous situation. School buses drive along Southworth drive and my children ride a bus daily from Harper Hill Rd SE to South Colby Elementary. Coming home, after dropping my children off, the bus continues along Harper Hill Rd SE and goes down the hill to Southworth Drive. I see no cones marking where the guard rail will be installed along Southworth drive, where it interesects with Harper Hill Rd SE. This creates a dangerous condition where the road could be icy or slippery, and no guard rail prohibits a bus or car from sliding down Harper Hill Rd SE – straight across Southworth Drive, into the water. And as a general safety preventive – I would much rather hit a guardrail at dusk or in the dark, or in broad daylight, rather than slip a tire over the edge and have my vehicle go into the water. The water laps at the road — this is not Yukon Harbor where there is a stretch of beach between the road and the water.

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