The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is halfway through a statewide inspection of highway guardrails and has thus far found 144 sections that may not absorb the energy of a crash, putting drivers in danger.
Of the 120,000 crashes in Colorado per year, CDOT executive director Shailen Bhatt said, 1,500 involve guardrails and many are on interstate highways where vehicles are traveling fast. He said the department hopes to complete its inspection of 42,000 guardrail segments by the middle of next week and have repairs done within a few weeks. So far, CDOT has fixed 30 to 40 rails.
“Our crews have been working on this and will continue working on this,” Bhatt said, adding, “we’re not going to not treat roads for snow or ice or anything like that.”
The state has been using the same guardrail components since 1998 and all of them fit together, but the state didn’t realize they might not function properly when mixed.
“We’re grabbing from a stockpile of different types of guardrail,” CDOT chief engineer Josh Laipply said during the same media call. “We need to do better at training staff.”
New federal standards for guardrails go into effect in December 2017. Bhatt said the department considered replacing the defective guardrails with ones that met the new standards but decided instead to correct the safety issue as quickly as possible. CDOT is implementing a new system requiring maintenance crews to take photos of fixed rails and submit them to a database where engineers can verify that they are compatible parts.
“We’re not here to assign blame,” Bhatt said. “We’re here to find out what went wrong and fix it so it doesn’t happen in the future.”