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Cable splits I-15 — to save lives

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Cable barriers are being installed to prevent crossover accidents.

Cable barriers are being installed to prevent crossover accidents.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

PROVO — Utah County drivers are watching cable as they drive down I-15.

No, they're not turning on their television sets, but what they are seeing is causing as many rumors as an episode of reality TV.

"I've heard that those wire dividers are supposed to kill drivers before they can kill someone else," said Lindon resident Lynn Stapley.

"It looks like they're supposed to ruin a car's engine before it can get any farther," Lehi driver Ben Lunford proffered.

According to Geoffrey Dupaix, Region 3 spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation, the tension cable barrier that is being added to the center median along portions of I-15 in Utah County is doing exactly what it is supposed to do — save lives.

"The intent is to prevent or eliminate crossovers," Dupaix said. "It may not reduce the number of accidents in the same direction, but if we are able to eliminate that crossover, then it is definitely worth its being installed."

According to UDOT, crossover accidents on I-15 between American Fork and Provo took the lives of 16 people from 2000 to 2002.

While that number is a small fraction of total freeway accidents, it represents nearly all crossover accidents that took place during that time frame.

"Crossover accidents are bad accidents," said Lt. Ken Peay of the Utah Highway Patrol. "There are a lot serious injuries involved with these types of accidents and a lot of our fatal accidents have resulted from crossovers."

Before UDOT began adding the cable barriers, only a portion of the 44 miles of freeway in Utah County had a physical barrier — the 6-mile area between the Provo Center Street and North Springville exits.

Now, the department is nearing completion on a $1.3 million project that has installed cable barriers from Provo to Pleasant Grove. Another $1.1 million will be used shortly to continue the project to the 1200 West interchange in Lehi, where concrete barriers are already in place.

"Essentially what you'll see is cable barrier from the Alpine interchange down to Provo Center Street," Dupaix said.

Dupaix said UDOT's decision to install the cable barriers in lieu of traditional concrete barriers was purely economical since concrete dividers are twice as expensive as their cable counterparts.

After studying the use of cable barriers in other states — including Ohio and Oklahoma — the department realized there were other benefits in using cables rather than concrete barriers. The cables cause less damage to vehicles and maintenance is much cheaper.

"Concrete is fixed. When a vehicle strikes it there is more of an impact," Dupaix explained. "With the cable barrier, there is some give. It is meant to catch the vehicle and then redirect it, not necessarily stop it immediately. That catching serves to help reduce damage to the vehicle."

Dupaix said at least one vehicle has hit the cable barrier and simply driven off since the installation began. While there has been some minimal damage to vehicles in other accidents, there have been no fatalities thus far.

"They've just done an excellent job in protecting drivers," Peay said. "We haven't had anyone go through the barriers — just someone who rolled over the top, but even they didn't get in the way of incoming traffic."

Fixing the barriers is equally economical, since the posts that secure the cable are removable. That allows crews to come in following an accident and restring the cable onto a new post without replacing the wire.

"With the funds that we had, this was a more viable solution from a cost standpoint because we were able to put this cable barrier in along a longer portion than we would have been able to with concrete dividers," Dupaix said. "It just made sense."

E-mail: lwarner@desnews.com