State slow to repair broken I-675 cables

Lifesaving barriers are effective, but delays for parts hamper repairs.



Steel cables lining the median of Interstate 675 appear able to stop crossover crashes as designed — once.

After cars crash into the cables and damage the safety barriers, it is taking state officials months to fix them, leaving some drivers worried about gaps in the safety system, the Dayton Daily News found.

The Ohio Department of Transportation blames the repair delays on difficulties in securing parts. Supplies ordered for Greene County include 250 posts, clips and cable pins at a cost of $27,500.

“If (the office) gets (supplies) in today, they will get out tomorrow fixing those posts,” said Sharon Smigielski, spokeswoman for ODOT’s District 8. “Repairing these posts is a priority for us ... ”

The cables were installed the past two years along about 16 miles of I-675 from just north of I-75 to near Grange Hall Road in Greene County. In Ohio, they run alongside about 300 miles of roadway where the median is narrow, including parts of I-70 and I-75.

With a price tag of $95,000 per mile, the cables are about a quarter the price of traditional concrete barriers.

Crash statistics provided by ODOT show the cables appear to be working. The one to four often-fatal crossover crashes on I-75 in Montgomery County every year prior to the cables going up have dropped to zero, replaced by six to 15 crashes involving the cables, which tend to be less serious.

I-675 hasn’t had a crossover crash since the cables were installed.

“They’ve been very effective,” agreed Sgt. Anthony Lauer of the Xenia post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

But in places where cars apparently have hit the cables, poles jut out at dangerous angles and the cable in certain areas lays crumpled on the ground. Daily News reporters drove I-675 this week and noted more than a dozen places where poles or cables were down. Cables lay slack for more than half a mile on a stretch of highway north of Indian Ripple Road.

Mike Thompson of Springboro finds himself driving on I-675 for work and has mixed feelings about the project.

“You kind of hold your breath when you’re driving 675 because (it seems as if) people are obviously trying to cross that median,” he said. “I was really pleased to see those wires go up and I was even more pleased to see they are serving their purpose. Now I’m thinking a project that actually worked has now been abandoned.”

Thompson worried particularly about the poles that “are now facing oncoming traffic like little spears,” he said. “Couldn’t we go out and take the poles that are actually facing traffic and take them out so some guy who runs off the road ... doesn’t tear the undercarriage off his car along with the cabling and the rest of it?”

He said he’s seen cable down for periods approaching two months.

State transportation officials couldn’t say how long the cables have been damaged, but conceded it could be months. They said this is due to an unusual circumstance with replacement parts running out and the state needing to negotiate a new contract with the vendor.

“(The supplies delivered this week) may last a whole year if they don’t get any hits, or it could last six months if they get a ton of hits,” Smigielski said.

ODOT officials in Columbus said the agency’s goal is to return barriers to “working position” within 72 hours of being notified that they are damaged.

ODOT said there are several benefits to the cables other than cost-savings.

“Cable barrier helps capture vehicles to prevent them from traveling across the median into oncoming traffic,” said ODOT spokesman Steve Faulkner. “It also prevents vehicles from bouncing back into same-direction traffic, which can be a concern when using other types of barrier.”

While the barriers have decreased traffic deaths and injuries, they have increased property damage. For instance, cars veering off into a ditch to avoid a deer, for example, can get tangled in cables, damaging both the car and the cables. When possible, the state tries to recoup the repair costs from auto insurance companies, officials said. “I believe most people would take a dented fender over loss of a loved one any time,” Faulkner said.

Lauer said the cables clearly have prevented crossover crashes. And except for the areas where the cable is on the ground, the damaged cable “I’m guessing is still going to be somewhat effective, but not as effective because it’s lost some tension.” As for Thompson’s concern about the spearlike poles, “we have not handled any crashes on I-675 that were a result of the barrier being down,” Lauer said.

ODOT’s Smigielski said the cables remain effective as long as there’s some tension. Of course, this is not the case where the cables were found on the ground.

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