Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Guardrail safety improvements: The Sequel

Contractor crews expand safety improvement project to include more than 80 guardrails

By Frances Fedoriska

Round two of a multi-county highway safety improvement project kicks off in November. Contractor crews will replace dozens more guardrail ends on 13 state highways in Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish and King counties.

If that sounds like a lot, that's because it is. Just like the first phase of this safety improvement project, which wrapped up in early 2020, most of the work requires overnight lane or ramp closures. Signs warning travelers of those overnight closures will be placed at the ramps at least five days in advance. When ramps are closed, detour signs will route traffic.

What needs replacing

Many of the big, curvy end pieces (known as terminals) on our highway guardrails need an upgrade.
Curved guardrail terminals like this on I-5 are outdated
and need to be replaced to meet current standards.

The new terminals have larger reflective ends, and are better suited to absorb more energy in a collision. They also have lower anchors and other refined safety features.

You can stay looped in to where work is happening by checking our travel alerts page or following @wsdot_traffic on Twitter. 

Why now?

The curved endpiece design has been in use for decades. Just like car safety technology evolves to keep people safer in a collision, so does guardrail technology. We're working to replace these outdated end terminals so they align with new technology and meet federal safety criteria.
This non-flared guardrail terminal was one of dozens
installed during the first phase of this project last year.

Determining replacement locations 

When selecting which terminals to replace, our engineers look at many factors:
  • Crash history on a given stretch of highway
  • Traffic speeds
  • Road elevation 
  • Abrupt surrounding roadside ditches
  • Road angle and curve
  • Immovable objects (overpass foundations, large sign posts and trees)
  • Installation and maintenance costs
We need your help

Don't let your phone, the radio, passengers or other things distract you from operating your vehicle. Drivers always need to focus on the road. 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 put them to the test.