FOX19 Investigates: Effectiveness of cable median barriers

86-car Pileup on I-275 at Colerain Ave on Monday
86-car Pileup on I-275 at Colerain Ave on Monday

(FOX19) - The death of 12-year-old Sammy Reagan after Monday's pileup on I-275 has raised a lot of questions about highway cable median barriers.

On Tuesday, FOX19 investigated how safe they really are, and why the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) chooses to install them on Ohio roadways.

"We have not seen anything like this in Hamilton County before, and I pray to God that we never see it again," said Hamilton County Sheriff, Jim Neil.

While the devastation on I-275 was immense, involving at least 86 vehicles, ODOT stands firm behind the barriers' record for avoiding tragedy. Officials argue it could have been worse if the wire barrier was not in place.

"As far as I'm concerned, those cables did their job to keep traffic from crossing that median," said Neil.

ODOT District 8 Spokesperson, Sharon Smigelski agreed, "It was never broken, the tension held, and it did stop the truck from crossing the median."

A study conducted by ODOT found 15% of cable barrier crashes resulted in injuries, but that number nearly doubled to 28% for guardrails, and hit 35% for concrete barriers.

"Deadly cross median crashes have been nearly eliminated with the result of using these types of barriers," revealed Smigelski.

The wires help catch vehicles and keep them from crossing into oncoming traffic or bouncing back in into the highway. They're designed to withstand a lot of energy.

Officials said Sammy Reagan was killed because she was standing to close to the cable median when it was impacted.

"The cable absorbed the energy but when it came back to its state... The movement of the cable, she was struck by the cable," said Neil.

Contrary to some initial reports, Smigelski said the cable never snapped, and in fact, did what it was designed to do.

In addition, the cable barriers are also popular because they're cost effective. Each mile costs ODOT $95,000, which is 4x cheaper than concrete barriers.

The cable barrier were first approved for Ohio in 2003. Since then, over 300 miles of the wire medians have been installed across the state.

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