In First Retests, Controversial Guardrail Performed as Expected: Official

Atlantic City Expressway Highway Generic
NBC10

In the first of a series of scheduled crash retests, a controversial guardrail lining highways in California and across the country, performed as expected, a U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration official said.

During the first day of crash testing Wednesday, Tony Furst, an Associate Administrator for Safety for the FHWA, said the ET-Plus guardrail end terminal “performed as we expected it to.”

The ET-Plus, manufactured by Trinity Industries, is being retested this month after the FHWA ordered the Dallas-based company to conduct new crash tests for the highway safety product. The demand for new testing came in October, after a jury in a federal whistleblower case found the company was liable for defrauding the federal government.

FHWA is the agency responsible for certifying which road safety products are eligible for federal reimbursement and states look to the agency for which products are approved for use on their highways.

Trinity, a highway manufacturing heavyweight, has been accused in lawsuits and complaints across the country for making a change to a widely used version of its guardrail end terminals, the ET-Plus.

The changes, according to the lawsuits, cause the metal railing of the guardrail to jam up inside the terminal chute, instead of passing through the chute and pigtailing out the side, away from the vehicle. The metal then sometimes pierces through a vehicle like a spear, cutting through cars and sometimes the people inside.

Click here for more about the controversy surrounding the ET-Plus.

More than 40 states, including California, have banned future installation of the ET-Plus guardrail system. The company has also stopped selling the product pending the outcome of these retests.

It is estimated there are 200,000 of the guardrail end terminals on roadways across the country.

The California Department of Transportation is in the process of taking a complete inventory of how many units are on state roadways, according to Matt Rocco, Caltrans Public Affairs Chief.

The retesting began Wednesday and is schedule to continue Thursday with more crash tests next week and in January. It’s being conducted by the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

Click here for more information about how the testing will be conducted.

Rocco said, Caltrans pulled eight ET-Plus units from its warehouse in Sacramento to be used for the testing. Caltrans did not measure the units before handing them over to Trinity, but Rocco said the FHWA did measure the units and Caltrans workers saw the federal officials measure them but did not record the measurements.

Click here to read statement from Trinity describing selection of ET-Plus units to be tested.

John Jewell from the research and innovation division of Caltrans was present at the testing Wednesday and is expected to be there Thursday as well.

According to a representative from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the crash test “looked clean and the vehicle went through just as expected.”

That representative serves on a technical committee on roadside safety. Tony Dorsey, with AASHTO said, the name of the representative was not being released to “protect findings.”

AASHTO represents all 50 state department of transportation agencies.

Wednesday’s test involved a pickup truck which made impact with the guardrail at a 15 degree angle, according to Furst. The testing occurred around 2:40 CST. It was scheduled to begin at 11 AM but was delayed. The actual crash impact lasted about 15 seconds.

The following FHWA officials were present at the testing Wednesday:

  • Dick Albin (Safety Engineer, FHWA Resource Center Safety & Design Technical Services Team)
  • Eduardo Arispe (Roadside Safety Program Manager, Office of Safety Research and Development; FHWA Office of Research, Development and Technology)
  • Tony Furst (FHWA Associate Administrator for Safety)

Along with Jewell, several other officials from state department of transportation agencies across the country were also present. A complete list of those in attendance was not immediately available from either the FHWA, Trinity or SRI.

Two members of the news media were allowed to observe the testing but cameras, audio recordings and cellphones were not allowed. At first, Trinity said no public access would be allowed, but reversed that policy earlier this week.

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