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Cable Median Barriers

This page last updated February 15, 2024

Back in the early 2000s, there were a number of serious head-on collisions on San Antonio area freeways that had no center median barrier. After a rash of these along Loop 1604, TxDOT installed portable concrete Jersey barriers in the median of 1604 and announced that they would be installing cable barriers in the medians of other area highways as part of a statewide effort to do so.

As often happens, the second-guessing began almost immediately. Skeptics bellowed that the "flimsy" barriers wouldn't even stop a Yugo, let alone an 18-wheeler. But engineers defended the barriers and insisted that they would work as intended. And indeed, in the first two years that cable barriers were in place in the San Antonio area, they stopped every single vehicle that hit them, including an 18-wheeler on I-35 in Von Ormy.



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Safety stats
A before-and-after study in 2007 after 335 miles of cable barriers were installed around the state showed that the number of fatalities on those roads where the barriers were installed dropped from 52 fatalities in the year before installation to just one fatality in the year afterward. In short, the barriers work and work well.

In fact, cable barriers are often better than metal guardrails and concrete Jersey barriers because they absorb more of the energy of the impact than do those traditional barriers, thus reducing the chance of injury and death. They also reduce the number of "rebound" accidents where a vehicle hits the barrier and then bounces-back into the traffic lanes. All of these benefits come at an installation cost that is typically about 25% the cost of concrete barriers and half the cost of metal guardrails, and repair is typically faster and easier than with other barriers.

Cable barrier

Successful cable-barrier capture of an 18-wheeler
(Source: Washington Department of Transportation)

Motorcycles
One understandable concern is what happens to motorcyclists who hit the barrier. It would seem to be common sense that the cables pose a significant risk of injury to riders. This has led to some motorcyclists referring to cable barriers as "cheese cutters". However, several studies have been done in the US, Europe, and Australia on this issue and have generally concluded that the statistical evidence to date shows that cable barriers are no more dangerous to motorcyclists than other barriers. So while they may not be better for motorcyclists, they're generally not worse.

Cable barriers are now fairly commonplace along divided highways in Texas.


Other sites of interest

Avenue Consultants - All About: Cable Barriers
https://youtu.be/WP4pL_K3gwc