Median cables heavily damaged in long winter

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Miles and miles of median cable that is meant to protect highway drivers from potentially deadly “cross-median” crashes is sagging and twisted in West Michigan, damaged by a winter of crashes.

Michigan Department of Transportation officials say this was the most damage they’ve seen in the five years since the cables were first installed.

They say crews only recently were able to start repairing the steel cables.
They hadn’t been able to make the repairs because of cold weather and deep snow, MDOT spokesman John Richard said.

“When it’s cold, the cable actually shrinks and you can’t reset the tension, otherwise it might snap and that’s a very dangerous situation for the guys fixing the cables,” Richard said.

On Friday, a Kent County Road Commission crew repaired cables on U.S. 131 near 84th Street and on I-96 near Plainfield Avenue.

But 24 Hour News 8 found the most damage along 131, south of the Kent County line; 97 damaged sections of cable on the 20-mile stretch from Plainwell to Dorr alone.

MDOT officials say the cables took about 200 hits this winter on 131 between the Kent County line and just south of Plainwell. It has left nearly 6 miles of cable damaged.

Along I-94, between New Buffalo and the Jackson County line, MDOT counts about 50 damaged sections with a total of more than 5 miles still down.

In January alone, cables on I-96, I-196 and U.S. 131 in Kent County were hit 19 times, Richard said.

“Those cables took an absolute beating,” Richard said. “There were a lot of slide-offs, a lot of accidents.”

The state starting installing the steel cables in 2008; a $40 million project that covered 280 miles, about $142,000 a mile.

MDOT acknowledged the cables have damaged a lot of cars that might not have otherwise been damaged, but said the potential for saving lives was worth it. It estimates the cables save 13 lives a year in Michigan.

“There has been a lot more damage to cars because of the cable; it will jack up your car, but you’ll walk away,” Richard said. “The people that really like cable guard rails are the ones that see an out-of-control vehicle coming their way,” and the cable stops it, Richard said.

MDOT doesn’t know how much it will cost to repair the cable, but said most of the cost will be covered by car insurance of the drivers who caused the damage.

It expects to study the median cables this year to determine how effective they are.

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