FHWA Prods on Guardrail Maintenance, Urges Removal of Decades-old Devices

AASHTO Journal, 29 May 2015

The Federal Highway Administration is prodding the roadway construction industry to use this year’s work season to make sure guardrail end terminals are installed and maintained according to their crash-test requirements, and is emphasizing the need to remove obsolete, decades-old guardrails that remain in place.

In a May 26 memorandum to FHWA division administrators and federal lands division engineers, Associate Administrator Tony Furst urged the agency officials to share the information with state departments of transportation and any local agencies responsible for operating and maintaining roadways.

Furst wrote that for guardrail end terminals that meet crash-test requirements “there are installation and maintenance challenges” with the roadside safety devices to make sure they are in accordance with their test criteria. “It is critical that devices be installed and maintained properly so they are in the best position to perform as designed and tested,” he added.

He said the FHWA “emphasizes the need to have in place policies and procedures to evaluate the selection of roadside safety hardware relative to the roadway type, configuration and terrain; ensure its proper installation and maintenance; and periodically evaluate its in-service condition.”

The memo spells out steps for state and local agencies to take in order to make sure the devices are in place according to their requirements. Those include making sure agency work crews or contractors are trained, credentialed or authorized by the manufacturer to install and maintain that hardware.

That part of the memo applies to guardrails that are in compliance with the crash-testing criteria in the Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware, or with the predecessor National Cooperative Highway Research Program Report 350.

The memo includes pages of examples, with photographs, of installations that raise concern and the generally accepted practices to rectify them.

As to the issue of old-type guardrails that do not meet modern standards, Furst made clear those should come out of the highway system.

“There are some obsolete, non-crashworthy guardrail end terminals that still exist on the nation’s highway system,” he wrote. “We have raised awareness regarding these terminals through previous memoranda issued over a number of years. We strongly recommend that you encourage the removal of pre-NCHRP-350 guardrail end terminals.”

Furst pointed to a 1994 FHWA action memo on the same subject, directing the industry to replace those devices “with crashworthy roadside hardware at the earliest possible opportunity in concert with the maintenance of the roadway.”

But, he added, “it has been more than twenty years since that memo was issued and devices listed in that memo are still in service.” Furst repeated: “We strongly recommend that pre-NCHRP 350 guardrail end terminals be removed and replaced.”

He further emphasized that goal as he directed FHWA personnel to “strongly encourage the highway agencies to increase their efforts to systematically upgrade their pre-NCHRP-350 guardrail end terminals, particularly those that are on the NHS [National Highway System].”

Furst also said the FHWA’s Office of Safety, and the Safety and Design Team in FHWA’s Resource Center can provide training and technical assistance to state DOTs on the proper selection, installation and maintenance of the devices, and that many states have taken advantage of that resource.

And he said the Office of Safety will offer to help set up pooled fund arrangements to conduct in- service performance evaluations.

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