FOX19 INVESTIGATES: While ODOT waits, Virginia wastes no time on - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

FOX19 INVESTIGATES: While ODOT waits, Virginia wastes no time on guardrail decision

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Nearly one month after a federal jury in Texas found Trinity Industries guilty of fraud, the Virginia Transportation Department (VDOT) is taking steps to rid its highways of the ET-PLUS guardrail end treatment. While VDOT acts, Ohio's Transportation agency continues to take a wait and see approach.

VDOT officials have spent more than six months working to get crash test data from Trinity Industries, the maker of the ET-PLUS. VDOT sent the company a letter in May asking for details of the modifications to the original ET-PLUS and for crash test evidence for the modified ET-PLUS.

In 2000, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) awarded Trinity Industries a spot on the agency's approved products list, allowing the original ET-PLUS to be used across the nation's highways. In 2005, Trinity modified the guardrail head and did not disclose the changes to the FHWA.

By Oct. 10, VDOT said that Trinity had not delivered crash test data to Virginia officials, and the agency gave Trinity Industries a deadline of Oct. 24 to send the crash test evidence on the modified ET-PLUS. The day before the deadline, VDOT spokesman Marshall Herman said Trinity informed VDOT the crash test data would not be provided.

VDOT officials made a decision at that point to put together a plan to identify every ET-PLUS end terminal and mark them for removal. That plan is still in the works, Herman said.

ODOT: ‘NO EVIDENCE' OF PROBLEM WITH ET-PLUS

However, ODOT Director Jerry Wray said the state had “no evidence” the ET-PLUS guardrail end terminal had malfunctioned in Ohio. Wray made the statement despite ODOT holding onto an ET-PLUS guardrail head that was suspected of malfunctioning, causing an impalement and severely injuring a Cleveland-area woman last year.

“We have no evidence in the state of Ohio that there's any issue with these," Wray said.

Two days earlier, Wray announced ODOT would no longer purchase the ET-PLUS, pending new crash tests and direction from the FHWA on what to do about the heads. Nearly two weeks before, Trinity Industries also announced it would stop shipping the heads.

And despite a federal jury's verdict on Oct. 20 finding Trinity Industries guilty of fraud, Wray maintained the legal wrangling over the unapproved changes to the ET-PLUS was just “a point of contention between two manufacturers.”

INDIANA TAKING ACTION

Indiana, like 40 other states, has forbidden new installations of the ET-PLUS on guardrail projects across the state. The decision came after the Oct. 20 federal jury verdict in Texas where a whistleblower sued, claiming Trinity Industries defrauded the FHWA by keeping the changes it made to the ET-PLUS a “secret.”

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said his agency decided to review all crash data from Indiana to figure out if that state's seen a problem with the ET-PLUS.

“INDOT is reading and researching individual crash reports that were classified as a collision with a guardrail end to assess performance,” Wingfield said.

It's a move neither Ohio nor Kentucky has said they'll take to determine whether the ET-PLUS is safe for their highway systems.

GOVERNMENT STUDY: ONLY ET-PLUS ‘STATISTICALLY LESS SAFE'

University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) researcher Dr. Kevin Schrum put together a comparison of the modified ET-PLUS and the ET-2000 - the predecessor to the ET-PLUS - last September. Researchers looked at crash data from Missouri and Ohio, and concluded, “…in both states, it was found that the ET-PLUS placed motorists at a higher level of risk of both serious injury and fatal injuries relative to its predecessor, the ET-2000.”

In Ohio, the study looked at all deadly and serious injury crashes involving the ET-PLUS. Researchers used crash scene photographs to determine the specific guardrail end involved, and found 60 deadly and serious injury crashes in Ohio between 2006-2013.

According to the study, which looked at 60 Ohio crashes, five were shown to be deadly. Of the five deadly crashes, four involved the ET-PLUS, while one deadly crash involved the ET-2000.

Despite this study and its data, ODOT said it did not collect crash data involving guardrail strikes and could not provide it.

However, the Ohio Highway Patrol (OHP) provided a spreadsheet showing 277 guardrail end strikes in the last five years across Ohio that involved either death or serious injury. The Patrol does not notate what guardrail end terminal was involved, however.

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