GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – If your winter driving hasn’t been put to the test yet, chances are you haven’t ventured on a freeway in West Michigan lately. Slide-off crashes have dotted the roads and highways for months now and it’s taking a toll on the barriers in place to prevent head-on collisions.
According to the Michigan Department of Transportation there are roughly 350 miles of median cable guardrails across the state, about half of all the barriers are located in West Michigan.
The cost of repairing a damaged cable is cheap compared to alternative methods like concrete and steel barriers but MDOT admits there are a lot of repairs needed after this winter weather.
Drive along US-131, I-94 or I-96 and you are likely to see a fair share of drooping cables, large gaps and posts pulled from the ground. MDOT spokesperson John Richard said it’s just the side effects of a system doing what it’s designed to do, save lives.
“It’s not the abrupt stop like hitting a tree or hitting a concrete barrier,” said Richard. “It will jack up your car, but you will walk away,”
In the winter, like the snow itself, damage to median cable guardrails accumulates. The damage can be left on display for weeks, sometimes even months.
“Once the snow melts, they will have a chance to go out there and fix them,” he said. “Right now they are just impossible to fix.”
The snow creates a physical barrier, the cold compounds the problem.
“It’s so cold right now, the cable will actually shrink,” said Richard. “To reset the tension would be dangerous, it might snap.”
Repairs come way of county road commissions, contracted out for what is typically a ‘quick fix’.
Richard said, “Sometimes it’s just a matter of 15 to 20 minutes to fix just a couple of polls and reset the tension.”
Since 2008, MDOT has invested more than 40 million dollars to install barriers across the state. Repairs to the cable run between 12 to 15 dollars a foot and that cost is paid for by Michigan taxpayers.
“I know there are a lot of people that aren’t big fans of the cable guardrails, but the ones that are big fans are the ones that see an out of control vehicle coming their way and the cable stops them,” said Richard. “They are very effective in that manner.”
M-DOT said the cable barriers save about 13 lives and prevent more than 50 injuries a year.