Eyes on safety: DelDOT set to install median cable barriers on Del. 1

DOVER — Safety is a moving target and officials for the Delaware Department of Transportation said they will try to slow that target down by installing 23.5 miles of high-tension cable barriers in the median along Del. 1.

Charles “C.R.” McLeod, the director of community relations for DelDOT, said the addition of the cable barriers is not a direct response to the tragic accident that took place last Friday that took the lives of five family members on Del. 1. It is something that has been in the works for some time.

“The planning for this project began in March 2018 for the construction of the 11.5 miles of high-tension cable barrier south of Middletown and is currently estimated to cost $4 million and is expected to be constructed by the end of 2018,” Mr. McLeod said.

He said DelDOT is always actively working toward improving safety on Delaware’s highways, including adding the median cable barriers, which significantly reduce median crossover crashes.

“This is an ongoing program and not in response to Friday’s accident,” Mr. McLeod said. “However, roadway departure crashes are one of our strategic safety emphasis areas, and over the past several years, DelDOT has been installing a high-tension cable barrier system along (Del.) 1 in all identified high-risk areas — around curves, smaller width medians, high traffic volumes and high crash areas.

“Beyond installing additional median barriers along our freeways, other programs being implemented related to roadway departure crashes include high friction surface treatments, rumble strips, safety edge and updated horizontal curve warning signs.”

Mr. McLeod said DelDOT will be adding 11.5 miles of cable barriers in the median of the roadway along Del. 1 between Odessa and Smyrna — the area where Friday’s fatal crash took place — which is in design and scheduled to go to construction by the end of this year.

Once that section is completed, the next phase will add another 12 miles of barrier along Del. 1 south of Smyrna.

DelDOT is also planning to place median barriers on I-95 at the Delaware/Pennsylvania state line to about half a mile south of Harvey Road. It will include about 2.5 miles of currently unprotected median.

Just before 4 p.m. last Friday, Alvin S. Hubbard Jr., a 44-year-old from East New Market, Maryland, was driving southbound on Del. 1 when he lost control of his F-350 heavy duty pickup truck, crossed the median and struck a northbound car, which caused it to spin out of control near Pine Tree Road.

The car came to a stop in the median, but the pickup truck continued to travel southbound in the northbound lanes before colliding with a Toyota Sienna minivan carrying a family from Teaneck, New Jersey.

Audie Trinidad, 61, and his daughters, Kaitlyn, 20; Danna, 17; and 13-year-old twins Melissa and Allison were all killed in the collision.

Mr. Trinidad’s wife, Mary Rose Ballocanag, 53, was in the passenger seat and survived.

Mr. Hubbard was treated and released with non-life-threatening injuries. Delaware State Police are still investigating the accident and no charges have been filed.

A high-tension median cable barrier might have been able to prevent last Friday’s tragedy.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration said eight percent of all fatalities on divided highways are due to head-on crashes.

It also said that median barriers installed on rural four-lane freeways experience a 97 percent reduction in cross-median crashes.

“Median barriers significantly reduce the severity of cross-median crashes, which are attributed to the relatively high speeds that are typical on divided highways,” the Federal Highway Administration said on its website. “Approximately 8 percent of all fatalities on divided highways are due to head-on crashes.

“In the past, median barriers were typically only used when medians were less than 30 feet wide, but many states realized they were experiencing cross-median fatal crashes in medians that exceeded 30 feet,” the Federal Highway Administration said on its website.

“AASHTO’s (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) Roadside Design Guide was revised in 2006 to encourage consideration of barriers in medians up to 50 feet wide.”

Mr. McLeod said there are numerous benefits to cable barrier systems as opposed to steel/metal guardrails, including: More deflection (6 – 8 feet), better for application in wider medians; lower installation costs; lower maintenance costs; maintenance can be completed by state workers and is quick and repairs typically include the replacement of the posts.

“The (cable) barrier is designed to absorb the impact of a vehicle and assist in decelerating the vehicle after impact,” said Mr. McLeod. “When the system is struck, the posts break away, but the cables typically remain at the proper height and there is still tension on the system.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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