In response to a Texas court ordering Trinity Highway Products to pay $175 million in damages caused by one of its guardrails, FHWA Acting Administrator Gregory Nadeau is asking the manufacturer to provide a crash-testing plan for the ET-Plus System by Oct. 31.
Trinity submitted crash-test video of the product in 2005 and received FHWA approval, but the jury handling the Texas case said the company went on to alter the approved design. In an e-mail obtained by ABC News, a Trinity official said reducing a piece of metal from 5 in. to 4 in. in the guardrail’s end treatment would save Trinity $50,000 a year. However, the change has resulted in the guardrail piercing through vehicles following head-on collisions, rather than peeling away. Trinity did not reveal the change to the FHWA until it was pressured in 2012.
The American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials released a statement following the Texas ruling and asked Trinity to comply with the FHWA and re-test the guardrail.
“Safety of the traveling public is of paramount concern to state departments of transportation and AASHTO,” said AASHTO Executive Director Bud Wright. “We support the FHWA’s actions to have the manufacturer re-verify, through appropriate crash-testing procedures, whether the ET-Plus guardrail end treatment meets the requirements to remain eligible for use on federal-aid projects.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also believes the FHWA is at fault. Blumenthal sent a letter to Nadeau questioning the approval process of the guardrail system, and said the FHWA “failed to protect against potentially fatal defects in this product and that it continued to assume and represent to state transportation agencies that the product was safe.”
Four states—Virginia, Massachusetts, Missouri and Nevada—have suspended use of the ET-Plus System.
Trinity is working with the states and will appeal the Texas court decision. The manufacturer also is in talks with the FHWA regarding further testing of the ET-Plus system.
“We have the highest degree of confidence in our company, our employees and the performance and integrity of our products,” Trinity said in a statement to ABC News.