Web-like barriers catching vehicles, saving lives

Median cable barriers installed between Red Deer and Airdrie along Hwy 2 last summer have successfully prevented fatalities despite being struck nearly 400 times.

Motorists pass a section of spider fencing north of Innisfail that has been knocked off its support posts.

Motorists pass a section of spider fencing north of Innisfail that has been knocked off its support posts.

Median cable barriers installed between Red Deer and Airdrie along Hwy 2 last summer have successfully prevented fatalities despite being struck nearly 400 times.

About 360 vehicles have hit the barrier so far and only three of have gone through into oncoming lanes, Alberta Transportation spokesperson Trent Bancarz said on Tuesday.

Two of those vehicles were travelling at speeds in excess of 160 km/h. The other case, which involved a small car, is still under investigation.

“The interesting number is that there has been no fatal collisions ever since the barriers have been put up,” Bancarz said of incidents concerning vehicles that cross the median. “It’s certainly done its job.”

Vehicles that cross the median between Edmonton and Balzac traditionally account for about two per cent of the collisions along Hwy 2, but these accidents have resulted in 25 per cent of the fatalities on the roadway, Bancarz said.

“When you cross the median into oncoming traffic at a highway speed, the chances of fatalities are very high,” he said.

This barrier was, therefore, installed on a 124-km stretch of Hwy 2 from Red Deer to Airdrie as a preventive measure.

This area was chosen partly because the median is quite narrow, Bancarz said.

Another 3.5-km section near Leduc has the safety device.

The total cost to install the barriers was $8.2 million.

The barriers have collapsible posts threaded with flexible steel cables that act like a spiderweb that wraps around a vehicle to prevent it from entering oncoming lanes, Bancarz said.

Maintenance contractors drive the highway every day to assess the state of the barrier. Posts are replaced and the cables are restrung whenever the barrier is hit, he said.

Alberta Transportation is looking at installing the barrier along other divided highways in the province based on a priority ranking.

The barrier was first introduced on a 10-km stretch of the north end of Deerfoot Trail in Calgary in 2007. No vehicles have broke through that barrier.

ptrotter@reddeeradvocate