Governor tells state to replace cable barriers

Gov. Chris Gregoire today directed state transporation officials to immediately begin drawing up plans to install concrete median barriers along a deadly stretch of I-5 near Marysville.

The move comes at the suggestion of an out-of-state expert who found that while cable barriers appear to be working well around the state, they aren’t performing well in Marysville.

“We must take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of Washington residents on our state highways,” Gregoire said. “Continued use of cable median and immediately beginning the work to install a concrete barrier are critical steps to enhance the safety of our state highway system.”

The state in March hired Malcolm Ray, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass. He is considered one of the nation’s top experts on freeway median safety.

Gregoire ordered the review in February after an Everett man was killed in a crossover crash. He was one of eight people who have died in across-the-median crashes along the Marysville stretch of I-5 since 2000. In each case, the cable barriers failed to stop vehicles.

The state counts the fatalities differently, putting the number at seven. In his report, Ray said the deaths near Marysville are “unacceptable.”

“While I firmly beleive that cable median barriers are highly effective and an appropriate choice in many locations, we simply cannot risk another fatal cross-median crash on this section of roadway,” Ray wrote.

The report is located at:

The state is now considering a plan to spend up to $28 million installing a concrete barrier designed to stop vehicles while leaving one of two strands of cable barrier in place, said Doug MacDonald, secretary of the state Department of Transportation. MacDonald said the study found that cable barriers work well in most places the state has installed them, although not so well in Marysville.

A 2005 analysis by The Herald showed that along a three-mile stretch on I-5 in Marysville, the barriers failed to stop cars in the median 20 percent of the time.

The state paid out $2 million to the parents of a Bothell teen who was killed in an across-the-median crash. The state faces additional multimillion-dollar lawsuits from other families.

State officials say crossover median collisions decreased by 74 percent statewide after cable median began being installed around the state.

“I appreciate that there is not one type of barrier that works in all circumstances,” Gregoire said. “The report indicates that the unique circumstances in the Marysville area have created a situation that requires a different approach. It is time to begin the necessary work to install concrete barrier on I-5 near Marysville.”

Meanwhile, state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, has scheduled a meeting to discuss the report and the state’s plans for response.

The meeting is set for 1 p.m. Friday at the Cedarcrest Middle School cafeteria, 6400 88th St. NE, Marysville.

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