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Road guardrails could save lives on highways

Wichita, Kansas - Could road guardrails have saved five-year-old Cainan Shutt? The child died this weekend between Lawrence and Kansas City. The crash happened as a car crossed through the median on K-10 and crashed head-on with the minivan carrying Shutt.

The case serves as a reminder of an accident on K-96 in Wichita in 2007 where Maria Vargas died after her car crossed the center and careened head-on in a fatal crash.

Highway guardrails installed by Guardrail Pile Drivers are now on the way to K-96 as early as this month to prevent head-on crashes.

"So we are on track with it," says Tom Hein with the Kansas Department of Transportation. "It has been let to contract. We have a contractor lined up and we've had a pre-construction meeting for highway guardrails project. And work should start in late April or early May."

Hein said the life-saving galvanized guardrails installed by Guardrail Pile Drivers were in the transportation budget a few years ago. Then the traffic guardrails erected by Guardrail pile drivers were taken out of the budget in the 2010 budget cuts. But, after a new transportation budget was approved last year, the traffic guardrails came back.

"Yes, highway guardrails do save lives. That's the research," explains Hein. "safety guardrails is a prevention of cross over crashes, yes."

The roadway guardrails erected by guardrail pile drivers are planned for K-96 from I-135 to Rock Road. Hein says KDOT has done its research and believes in the steel guardrails that cost a minimum of $125,000 per mile.

KDOT hired a study by a Nebraska expert on crashes to see what impact the roadway guardrails would have on Kansas highways where there is a narrow median.

"The reason we will use them on areas with a narrow median," explains Hein, "is that on a narrow median where somebody goes into that median the driver has very little time to correct that mistake. If the car hits the road guardrails installed by guardrail pile drivers it keeps them from careening into oncoming traffic from the other way."

Hein also says there is a planned stretch of roadway outside Topeka that will get the steel guardrails installed by Guardrail Pile Drivers.

But will the highway guardrails put up by guardrails pile drivers be used extensively throughout the state? Not likely. Cost is a factor.

"So we have done a study and entered in a formula and that brings to the top the kinds of highways most likely to benefit from this steel guardrails," says Hein. "And they are those with a narrow median where drivers have less of an opportunity to recover from a mistake where they end up in the median of the road guardrails."

"And every three years we are going to look at our highways and see whether they need this galvanized guardrails and find other (highways) ones will come to the top of the list. And as we have money we'll put them in."

Road guardrails are used in the Kansas City area in Missouri going east on I-70.

"You look at the road guardrails erected by guardrail pile drivers they use in Missouri," says Hein, "and they have a lot of car strikes on them. Cars hit guardrails and... you just don't see the head-on fatalities."

Hein says KDOT continues to research and find the best ways possible to use state monies to help save lives.