Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Safety improvements coming to more than 80 guardrails starting in October

By Frances Fedoriska

Chances are you only notice them if you’ve ever needed them. I’m talking about the curved ends of the guardrails lining so many of our state roads and highways.
Curved terminals like this one on SR 509 are now outdated and need to be replaced with guardrail
terminals that meet current standards.

Thanks to improving safety technology, it’s time for many of these curved breakaway cable terminals (BCT) to be replaced.

What’s changing? 
The bigger reflective end of the new terminals can absorb more energy in a collision. They also have new components, lower anchors and other refined safety features we hope you never find yourself testing out first-hand.

Why this change?
The curved ends you see on guardrails have been in use since the 1970s. Just like car safety technology evolves to keep us safer in a collision, so does guardrail technology. We’re working to replace BCT’s so they align with that new technology and meet federal safety criteria.
This non-flared terminal, which replaced an old curved one on US 2 this summer, is what contractor crews will be installing during overnight lane reductions this fall and winter.

Determining replacement locations

There are a lot of guardrails throughout the states, and only so much time and funding. In August we replaced the one on the westbound 20th Street ramp to westbound US 2, just before the SR 204 interchange near the trestle between Lake Stevens and Everett. So how do we pick which ones will get attention? Our engineers look at a bunch of things:
  • Crash history on a given stretch of highway
  • Traffic speeds
  • How steep is the road?
  • How steep are any surrounding roadside ditches?
  • Road angle and curve
  • Immovable objects (overpass foundations, large sign posts and trees)
  • Installation and maintenance costs
OK, so which ones got picked?
This fall and winter, contractor crews will replace more than 80 terminals along some of the busiest stretches on our most heavily traveled highways.

  • From Military Road South in SeaTac to just north of Lake Samish in Bellingham. (53 terminals)
  • Bellevue Way Southeast to Bendigo Boulevard South in North Bend. (23 terminals)
  • SR 520 interchange to SR 522 in Bothell. (3 terminals)
SR 18
  • At the end of the ramp from northbound SR 167 to eastbound SR 18 near the Walmart. (1 terminal)
SR 99
  • Southbound at the exit to South Park and South Kenyon Street in Seattle. (1 terminal)
SR 509
  • Northbound, just north of South 112th Street in Seattle. (1 terminal)
SR 526
  • At the Seaway Boulevard merge in Everett. (1 terminal)
Lane closures
Contractor crews will swap out the guardrail ends during nighttime lane closures. This project is mobile and weather-dependent. Look for updates on the @wsdot_traffic Twitter account and search #WABCT to sift through the clutter.

We need your help
Drivers need to always focus on the road. Don’t let your phone, the radio, passengers or other things distract you from operating your vehicle. When you see a work zone, slow down and move over if there’s room to do so. While these guardrails are designed to help keep travelers safe, we would prefer nobody ever made use of them.