Albion-- Cable guards added as expressway safety tool Opponents of plan say guards have problems of their own

By Aaron Aupperlee

Jackson Citizen Patriot

ALBION, Mich. (AP) -- Planned summer roadwork for Interstate 94 near Albion includes the installation of cable guardrails, a safety system designed to save lives but despised by some motorists.

After the Michigan Department of Transportation repaves 7 1/2 miles of westbound I-94 this summer, the department will install the cable guardrails in the median, said Albion Director of Public Services Kevin Markovich. The barriers, fences of high-tension cable strung along the median, are designed to keep vehicles that lose control from sliding into lanes of oncoming traffic.

"What we have discovered thus far is that they are doing exactly what they were designed to do," said Nick Schirripa, a state transit department spokesman.

The cable barriers between 21 1/2 Mile Road and 29 Mile Road in Calhoun County are the final part of a three-year project to install the guardrails on sections of highway throughout the state, Schirripa said.

A joint study by state and federal departments of transportation conducted five years ago identified about 300 miles of highway where cable barriers could increase safety. Cable guardrails have already been installed along highways near Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Detroit. The guardrails cost about $20,000 per mile. The entire three-year project will cost about $40 million.

Between 2004 and 2009, a vehicle crossed the median in only one crash between 29 Mile Road and 21 1/2 Mile Road, according to reports from the Michigan State Police. On Dec. 19, 2009, a Dodge van lost control near 27 Mile Road, crossed the median and struck a Volkswagen. No one was injured.

"We're looking at crash history. We're looking at median width. We're looking at traffic volume," Schirripa said.

Many motorists are not convinced. Motorcyclists fear the taut wires could act as guillotines during crashes. In the first winter after the cable guardrails went up around Kalamazoo, police reported more slide-off crashes and repair shops higher bills.

A Van Buren County Sheriff's lieutenant said cable guardrails installed along I-94 near Paw Paw played a factor in a fatal crash earlier this month. Guadalupe Jaramillo, 60, of Saginaw was a passenger in a car that lost control and struck the cable guardrail, coming to rest sideways in the left lane of the highway, according to the Kalamazoo Gazette. Jaramillo was getting out of the car when it was struck by another eastbound vehicle. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

"If the cable barrier wasn't there, more than likely the car would be in the median," Lt. Robert Kirk of the Van Buren County Sheriff's Office told the Gazette.

Schirripa said it was "not reasonable" to blame the cable guardrail for Jaramillo's death. He said the cable guardrail did what it was supposed to do -- keep the car from sliding across the median and into oncoming traffic -- and noted that no one in the car was injured after it struck the cables. While not blaming anyone involved in the crash, Schirripa said the action of people after the impact with the cable guardrail played a more direct role.

Starting this summer, the transportation department will begin studying the effectiveness of the guardrails in Michigan, Schirripa said. Michigan has been using data from other states. In 2014, the department will compile its results and decide how to proceed. No more cable barriers will be installed during the study.

Published: Tue, Mar 8, 2011