By Sean Ryan
Road and bridge builders must absorb the cost of replacing their inventories of concrete barriers two years sooner than expected.
The waist-high, precast concrete barrier segments are lined up to create a wall separating road builders from drivers. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has required the barriers be 10-feet-long, but, according to federal rules, builders must soon use 12½-foot segments.
The Federal Highway Administration changed the requirement in 2003 and gave states until 2013 to make the switch, said Jerry Zogg, WisDOT’s chief roadway standards engineer. But this month, the state agency announced the switch to longer barriers will start in November, with a ban on 10-foot segments beginning in 2011.
“We just felt that we reached kind of a tipping point this construction season,” Zogg said.
Matt Grove, director of construction management for the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, said transportation builders wanted to delay until 2013 the ban on 10-foot barriers. The two extra years would give road builders — especially bridge builders that have large barrier inventories — more time to absorb the cost of replacing their stock, he said.
The delay also would alleviate worries that the longer barriers cannot be manufactured quickly enough to pace the new demand, Grove said.
“It’s going to require our contractors to transition over to the 12½-foot barrier,” Grove said, “and there’s going to be some costs associated with that.”
New barriers cost about $25 per foot, said Dan Zignego, controller for Waukesha-based Zignego Co. Inc. He said WisDOT has for years warned contractors of the change, and Zignego, which makes the barriers, has been switching over its stock for years, he said.
“I think it’s a good idea,” he said of using the longer barriers. “It’s a little expensive, but it’s safe.”
WisDOT chose to make the change in 2011 because the shorter barriers are in poor condition, and they come in a range of designs, Zogg said. The designs required in Wisconsin cannot be pinned to the pavement to prevent sliding on impact, he said.
The 12½-foot rule is based on studies conducted by the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, a research program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that is paid for by state departments of transportation. In the studies, researchers crashed cars into barrier walls ranging from 10 to 20 feet and recorded how far the barriers slid and whether they held together, said Ronald Faller, research assistant professor.
The 12½-foot barriers were the best at absorbing the shock of a car crash while also being small enough that contractors could move them into place with equipment generally found at a construction site, Faller said.
Zogg said WisDOT will work with barrier manufacturers in the state so they know what the demand will be in 2010 and can prepare for it. If there is a shortage, the agency will allow 10-foot barriers in certain instances, he said.
“What we’ll do,” Zogg said, “if we need to do it at all, is increase the locations where you can use 10-foot barriers.”