Temporary Cable Barriers: Government Wisdom Or Waste?

Monday, February 4th 2013, 12:07 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, 9 Investigates

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Two years ago, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority spent almost a million dollars to install cable barrier systems that it knew would have to be torn out only a year later.

These temporary barriers -- 7.1 miles on the Creek Turnpike and 7.2 on the Kilpatrick -- were erected in the same sections that are currently being expanded from two lanes to three. Most drivers are familiar with one or both of these projects, and a few remember the short-lived cable barriers that preceded them.

In fact, some people voiced serious concern about what they saw as a waste of money.

Mark wrote, "Surely this expansion has been on the books for a while. so all this money is spent to be ripped up a year later? Doesn't sound smart to me."

Another critic, Larry, wrote, "Maybe they feel...the turnpike money is free money...why install the cables for such a short period?"

And yet another asked, "...how much money did the OTA waste on this?"

We took those concerns straight to Turnpike Authority director and Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley.

"Can you understand," 9 Investigates asked, "how people might have looked at this and said, 'Whoa, what are they doing?'"

"Sure, sure," responded Ridley.

And, still, Ridley stands completely behind the move. He says he should -- it was his decision.

"We were very concerned about the crossover accidents," Ridley told us.

Ridley says the number of cross-over wrecks on the Creek and Kilpatrick turnpikes had been gradually increasing, as the respective traffic counts increased.

We checked and discovered a gradual increase in cross-over wrecks, from 13 in 2006 to 25 in 2011. Ridley says, even with the expansion projects for the two turnpikes looming, he felt they had to do something right away to address a potentially deadly situation.

"Our responsibility," Ridley explained, "is to try and make the safest facility possible."

We found one woman who appreciates that philosophy. She didn't want her identity revealed, but wants people to know this: "I'm here today because of that cable barrier."

About a month after the temporary cable barrier on the Kilpatrick turnpike was in place, the woman was driving to work, When a trooper on an emergency call came up behind her, she says she pulled over onto the inside shoulder, but went too far -- her tires caught the edge of the pavement and the car went into the grassy median.

"I tried to get back on the pavement, which caused me to do a 360 on the interstate," she recalled, "and I shot back down and hit the cable barrier."

She believes, if the cable barrier hadn't been there, she was going fast enough that she would have crossed over.

"I know I would have gone across into the other traffic going the other direction," she insisted, "so it did save my life."

The temporary barriers may have saved other lives, as well. In the year's time they were up, an OTA spokesman says they were hit 46 times.

"Whether they would have crossed over and hit an oncoming car, no one will ever know," said Secretary Ridley.

"I've personally seen entire families killed in cross-over collisions," said Major Rusty Rhodes, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol's zone commander for turnpikes.

Rhodes says OHP and other law enforcement agencies know that cable barriers prevent cross-overs, and that alone makes them worth their cost.

"We knew, as troopers, if we got a call for a cross-over," Rhodes went on, "that it was going to be a horrific accident, that there was going to be great pain, suffering, and potentially, and quite often, a fatality."

According to the Turnpike Authority, it cost $830,000 to install just over fourteen miles of cable barrier on the two turnpikes in the spring of 2011. It cost approximately $250,000 more to remove it in the spring of 2012, for a total of more than $1 million.

As part of the widening projects, those temporary barriers are now being replaced with more expensive, concrete barriers. The cables themselves, however, are being recycled. They're now being installed a few miles away, along other sections of the two toll roads that had previously not had barriers of any sort.

See a complete breakdown of the cost of the different cable barrier systems

And this is just the beginning -- Turnpike Authority officials say they plan to install $50 million worth of cable barriers across the state over the next five years.

See a map of where the turnpike authority plans to install new cable barriers

To critics of his decision to put up the temporary barriers on the Creek and Kilpatrick, Ridley makes no apologies. And the near-victim says it was worth every penny.

"Well, believe me," she asserted, "if those critics were in my place that day, they wouldn't be critics."