How cable median barrier works

The in basket: Cathy Wolf said in a March e-mail, “I am curious about the cable barrier that has been installed on Highway 16 by Purdy.  I question the need for this barrier.  Couldn’t our road dollars be better used to help improve traffic flow?”
I found the cable barrier a curiosity, too, but more for how it works than whether it was money well spent.


The in basket: Cathy Wolf said in a March e-mail, “I am curious about the cable barrier that has been installed on Highway 16 by Purdy.  I question the need for this barrier.  Couldn’t our road dollars be better used to help improve traffic flow?”
I found the cable barrier a curiosity, too, but more for how it works than whether it was money well spent. But it did strike me as strange that Highway 16 would get it before Highway 3 north of Bremerton, which got quite a bit of ink a few years back for cross-median fatalities.
I also wondered how much has to be replaced when it’s hit.
The out basket: Lisa Murdock of the state’s Olympic Region for highways, replied, “We are installing approximately 70 miles of cable guardrail in eight counties and on nine separate highways across Washington to help prevent crossover and head-on collisions. All the locations are vulnerable to crossover collisions.”
She also said Highway 3 between Kitsap Way and Poulsbo is scheduled to get the cable, beginning in October.
“In most cases, crews will only have to replace the metal posts supporting the cables (after a car hits the barrier),” she said. “The metal posts are designed to break away when struck by a vehicle. The metal posts are easily replaced because they slip into concrete anchors in the ground. In most cases, the cable will continue to function without several posts until crews can replace them.
“One of our maintenance technicians said he was able to replace 11 posts in less than one hour. That’s remarkably fast.”
It works by snaring a car in its cables, and flexing to slow and stop the vehicle without bouncing it back into traffic. They have a Web site, www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/cablebarrier/video.htm, where you might be able to watch a video of the cable barrier in action. I couldn’t get it to work, but you can give it a try.
I had other questions about the cable barrier, too. Those are the subject of the next Road Warrior.

3 thoughts on “How cable median barrier works

  1. Cable barriers may work well for cars and pickups but they are extremely hazardous to motorcyclists. Imagine what would happen to a human body that comes in contact with one of these “safety devices” at 60 – 70 mph. They’re called “cheese cutters” for good reason. They should be banned.

  2. I’d rather like to think you don’t support the dismemberment of motorcyclists, so please let me enlighten you.

    For years, these types of barriers were not installed on state or federal highways in Washington. The last stretch that was removed was on I-5 in Bellingham around 1998. This was due to the efforts of motorcyclists throughout the state.

    Motorcyclists have a distinct problem with these types of barriers. A soft mass hitting two wires at 60 mph will become three soft masses. It hasn’t happened in this state recently BECAUSE MROs lobbied for their removal. Motorcyclists hitting jersey barriers and guardrails have a much higher survival rate.

  3. The Road Warrior article on Wednesday discussing the merits of the new cable barriers for the median leaves me with a question of safety concerning them.

    What effect is the cable barrier going to have on a motorcyclist who happens to be unfortunate enough to hit it? The thin cables and small cross-section of the posts are probably going to do major damage to any body striking it during an accident.

    It would be bad enough to hit a guardrail, but it appears the cable barrier will be deadly to a motorcyclist.

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