MoDOT: guard cable designed to stop cars, not semis

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – As you travel down the highway, there's a safety feature you may not pay much attention to; that is, until it saves your life.

Nearly two decades ago, the Missouri Department of Transportation began an initiative to install median guard cables system-wide. The barriers prevent cars from crossing medians into oncoming traffic.

"We started doing a lot of this median guard cable back in 2001, and we estimate that we have saved over 400 lives since then," MoDOT Traffic Engineer Derek Olson explained.

The results have been staggering. In 2002, before the cable was installed along I-70, there were 24 fatalities on the highway. By 2006 that number dropped to just two.

The agency's study found the cable caught 95 percent of the vehicles that crashed into it. 

Unfortunately, it's not designed to stop tractor trailers. 

Just after 9 p.m. Wednesday, a semi traveling on southbound Interstate 29 north of Platte City barreled through the cable median barrier onto the northbound lanes.

For more than a mile, the semi traveled in the wrong direction before attempting to cross back into the southbound lanes.

A car traveling north on I-29 clipped the back of the semi as it attempted to cross back into the correct lanes of travel. One person died in the car, with another person suffering serious injuries.

For all other cars, the cable median barriers would have stopped Wednesday’s initial crossover. Drivers we spoke with said they feel much safer on the highway with the cable installed.

"You can't stop every accident from happening obviously, but I think it does help to an extent," Tony McKee, who was filling up at a gas station off I-29, said.

Wednesday's crash damaged the guard cable, which MoDOT must now repair. 

The barriers are not cheap. The initial installation costs between $100,000 and $120,000 per mile.

"Is that expensive? Yes, it's money, but we feel it's money well-spent to save lives in Missouri," Olson said.

Olson added the agency is constantly evaluating the need for additional cable. One of the biggest factors MoDOT takes into account is the width of the median. If it's really wide, engineers said the cable is not needed, since there's plenty of room for your car to come to a stop. The barriers are mostly needed in narrow areas. 

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