Along the I-5 corridor from Ashland through Central Point and stretching farther north up to Portland, the Oregon Department of Transportation is installing fencing in the median. What purpose does the fencing serve, and what issues would it be solving? I can't imagine the cost is worth it for stopping cars from intentionally driving across the median to turn around or from cars crossing the median into oncoming traffic. How much is this costing Oregon taxpayers, and how much funding is coming from the federal government?

— Chad, Central Point

 

Oregon has embarked on an approximately $20 million, multi-year project to install cable fencing on interstate highways where the space between opposing lanes is 100 feet or less.

The Oregon Legislature approved the project in 2015 after two Oregon State Hospital employees were killed in an I-5 crossover crash near Salem in 2014.

The fencing is going up around the state, including along I-5, I-205 and I-84, according to ODOT.

"It's to eliminate or significantly reduce crossover crashes that are horrific," said ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming.

The cable is strong enough to prevent many vehicles from smashing through, and is also relatively easy to replace, according to transportation officials.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration has endorsed cable barriers, saying they are less expensive to install than concrete barriers or metal beams.

Compared to concrete barriers, ODOT officials have said cable barriers catch out-of-control drivers with less risk that the driver will be seriously injured or killed.

"Cable median barrier has proven effective across the nation, and here in Oregon, at reducing the number and severity of crossover crashes," according to an ODOT website listing state projects. "It is considered a cost-effective barrier with a construction cost of approximately $15 per foot, compared to $80 per foot for concrete barrier."

The cable barriers are built low so they catch the bodies of cars and don't slice through car windshields. That can make them less effective with SUVs, trucks and other vehicles that are taller. Heavy vehicles can also break through the barriers, according to ODOT officials.

For an $8,969,495 cable barrier project along I-5 in Southern Oregon, the state is paying $2,447,992, and the federal government is paying $6,521,503, according to figures provided by Leaming.

The cable barrier near Valley of the Rogue State Park by the town of Rogue River is one of the locations struck most often. Drivers often fail to negotiate I-5 curves there and go off the highway into the median, according to ODOT officials.

Soon after it was installed in 2014, the cable barrier there stopped an out-of-control SUV from crossing into oncoming traffic. The collision with the barrier knocked down a row of metal posts.

When a cable median is damaged, crews replace the posts and use specialized tools to restring the cable and recalibrate the tension, according to ODOT.

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