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Who thinks about new guard rails? WSDOT does

Guard rails along I-5. (Chris Sullivan, KIRO Radio)

You probably never think about guard rails, until you need one to keep from going off the road.

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There is actually a lot of engineering that goes into guard rails, but most of them have been on the roads for decades. The technology is getting better, and it’s time for an upgrade. We’ve seen traditional metal rails replaced by cable barriers in some places to prevent cross over accidents, and now the ends of the guard rails are getting some attention.

“Nothing’s wrong with them [the existing caps],” the Washington Department of Transportation’s Frances Fedoriska said. “Just like the technology in your car keeps advancing and changing to keep drivers safe on the road, so do the systems on the roads and the highways around us.”

The end-caps or “curved breakaway cable terminals” are due for an upgrade. They are the curved ends of guard rails that you see at the beginning and end of the segments. They are being replaced by square ends with better crumple zones.

“They’re designed to absorb the impact of a collision,” Fedoriska said. “These flared ones, the way they’re designed, they disperse the energy differently than the curved ones. That’s really the only difference.”

The state is replacing 83 of them, mostly along the I-5 corridor. The locations are based on traffic and collision data.

Most drivers won’t notice the work while its happening or even when it’s done. The construction impacts will be minimal. It will involve mostly night-time work, with workers needing one or two nights for each location before moving on.

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This is the kind of work that the state can do during bad weather.

“Marking sure that our highways are in a good state of repair is a year-round job that we’re dedicated to,” Fedoriska said.  “It’s not just paving. It’s not just concrete. It’s also smaller projects like this that keep Washington moving.”

The first of these new square guard rail end caps went in over the summer along Highway 2.

Drivers will likely notice that the squares are now reflective, adding visibility to the start of guard rail sections.

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