Cable barriers project to expand

Expanding on earlier efforts, the state plans on spending $55 million to install cable median barriers along four interstates in a bid to reduce crossover accidents, Transportation Secretary Sherri LeBas said Thursday.

“What we have found is that cable barriers are performing well,” LeBas told the Louisiana House and Senate transportation committees.

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

In September state officials finished installing a $2.7 million, 22.5-mile section of cable median barriers on Interstates 10 between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

The total is now 81 miles.

The plan spelled out by LeBas will add 344 miles of the barriers and will be erected mostly on Interstates 10, 12, 20 and 55.

She said the work will be done over the next three financial years, which means July 1, 2013 until June 30, 2016.

Almost all of the improvements will be paid for with federal dollars.

LeBas said the work costs about $150,000 per mile.

Several high-profile fatalities have been cited to help justify the barriers.

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 Gary’s Honda Odyssey.

Mona Gary, who is Grace’s mother, attended the news conference in 2010 when state officials announced plans to add more barriers along I-10.

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

Most of the work has been done in south Louisiana.

But LeBas traveled to Bossier City earlier this week to announce plans that the barriers would be added on I-20 in Bossier and Webster parishes.

House and Senate committee members generally praised the push for more barriers.

However, state Rep. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette and others questioned the gaps that exist along I-10 between some of the barriers, such as turnarounds for emergency vehicles.

They noted that, in a recent case, a trailer broke loose from a vehicle and crossed the median through one such gap.

LeBas said those and other issues will be studied.

She said the only exclusions will be where treelines or concrete form a kind of barrier along the median or in cases where the median is so wide that barriers are not generally needed, such as on I-49.

State Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, questioned why there appears to have been an inordinate number of barriers erected in Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes and far fewer in Orleans Parish.

DOTD officials said attention is given to parts of the interstate where data shows high rates of crossover accidents.

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

The state plans to spend $15 million on the work in the financial year that begins on July 1, 2013; $15 million starting on July 1, 2014 and $25 million starting on July 1, 2015.

Specific sites for future work are unclear.

LeBas in September credited the barriers with helping to reduce highway fatalities, which have dropped 32 percent since 2007.