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I-4 guardrail project begins today in Hillsborough

Lane closures are not expected as 22 miles of guardrails are erected to the Polk County line.

Published January 9, 2006

TAMPA - Six months after promising major safety improvements to Interstate 4 in Hillsborough County, state highway officials today will start building 22 miles of guardrails to prevent median crossover accidents.

District officials of the Florida Department of Transportation accelerated the project after a rash of fatal accidents in summer. In one 10-day stretch last June, four people died in three-crossover accidents along I-4 in Hillsborough.

Originally, the guardrails were going to start at I-75 and stretch to the Polk County line. However, final plans call for the guardrails to start at 50th Street.

"A statewide study showed us that 80 percent of all crossover accidents happen within a mile of interchanges when people are weaving across lanes to get on or off the road," said Kris Carson, spokeswoman for DOT's District 7, which includes Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. "Since we have so many interchanges so close together, we decided to put the guardrails in across the entire county."

The $7-million project will take about six months to complete. No lane closures will occur during construction.

The decision is the latest in an evolving state transportation policy that began several years ago when DOT officials realized that extra wide grassy medians without guardrails were not preventing head-on collisions in crossover accidents on interstates. The plan is to put median barriers on every interstate in Florida and toll roads operated by Florida's Turnpike Enterprise.

"Guardrails in themselves are a hazard," Dwayne Kile, design engineer for the DOT, said of the I-4 decision last year.

"Guardrails don't stop accidents. When they're hit, they flex and then deflect the vehicles back in the direction they came from. But if a car is thrown back into traffic going in the same direction, an accident will probably be less severe than a head-on collision in opposing traffic."

In 1977, the federal standard for median width with no guardrails was 30 feet.

But as growth, traffic and speeds increased, Florida decided to require guardrails on any median more narrow than 64 feet. That has been the DOT's standard since 1991.

"Our new medians are at least 88 feet, well above the standard," Kile said. "We thought this was plenty of room for a driver to regain control of a vehicle that left the road, but, apparently, it isn't."

The DOT began to notice the trend in crossover crashes more than two years ago and commissioned a study that determined 80 percent of them happened within a mile of interchanges.

In the five-year study period, I-4 had 206 crossover accidents, more by far than any other interstate in Florida.

[Last modified January 9, 2006, 00:56:11]

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