State launching more cable median barriers

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- Cable barriers have been erected along Interstate 10 near the Highland Road exit to prevent cross-over accidents. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- Cable barriers have been erected along Interstate 10 near the Highland Road exit to prevent cross-over accidents.

The state is about to start adding nearly 350 miles of cable median barriers along interstates across Louisiana to prevent deadly crossover accidents.

The work represents a fivefold increase from the 81 miles erected so far, mostly in south Louisiana.

It will also address virtually all the sections of interstate that need the protection, said Sherri LeBas, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development.

“We will continue to see what we are seeing now, which is less errant vehicles or trailers crossing the median,” LeBas said.

The work is set to cost $46 million, mostly from federal funds.

Several high-profile tragedies point up the problem.

In 2011, a mother, her three children and a second adult were killed on Interstate 10 near Highland Road when a pickup crossed the median as it spun clockwise and struck head-on the car in which they were riding.

In 2008, Grace Gary, 8, was killed on I-10 when she and her Baton Rouge family were returning from New Orleans on Palm Sunday.

An eastbound truck crossed the I-10 median without braking and slammed into the Garys’ Honda Odyssey.

The child’s parents, Mona and Jimmy Gary, have since appeared before legislative committees and elsewhere to support the barriers and other preventive measures.

“Every mile of cable barrier that gets put up helps to grow Grace’s legacy that much more, and that to us is part of why we do this,” Jimmy Gary said.

The cables are designed to deflect vehicles that enter the median, keeping them from crossing over into oncoming traffic.

The effort is set to take three years and is set for completion by June 30, 2016.

New cable barriers are planned on interstates 10, 12, 20 and 55.

Dan Magri, highway safety administrator for DOTD, said interstates 49 and 59 also will be checked.

Some of the specific sites are still being worked on.

“It will be where we do not have cable currently and where we do not have a wide median or a tree line,” Magri said.

Much of the previous efforts have focused on heavily traveled I-10.

Last September, the state finished installing a 22.5-mile section of cable median barriers on I-10 between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Other areas on the three-year list include 27 miles along I-10 in West Baton Rouge and Iberville parishes, 76 miles along I-12 in Livingston Parish and on I-55, eight miles along I-10 in New Orleans East and 44 miles along I-10 in Jefferson Davis and Calcasieu parishes in southwest Louisiana.

However, pleas from state lawmakers in north Louisiana mean that work there will get some of the quickest attention.

A $4.6 million project to add cable to 34 miles on I-20 in Bossier and Webster parishes was let on July 10 and work is set to start by late summer or early fall, DOTD spokeswoman Lauren Lee said.

A total of 185 miles of cable median barrier are set to go up in eight north Louisiana parishes on I-20.

LeBas said state officials are studying how to address gaps in the barriers that serve as turnarounds for emergency vehicles.

In one case a trailer broke loose from a vehicle and crossed the median through one such opening.

“We are still looking at that,” LeBas said.

“We realize that there is an issue with that access for emergency vehicles.”

Magri said the barriers cost between $125,000 and $150,000 per mile.

The first went up in 2008 on I-12 in St. Tammany Parish.

LeBas told lawmakers earlier that the barriers have helped trim highway fatalities, which she said are down 32 percent since 2007.

“The results speak for themselves,” Jimmy Gary said. “Clearly it is a phenomenal improvement.”