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ODOT Pays Premium for Cable Barriers

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Oklahoma requires a 4-cable system. Oklahoma requires a 4-cable system.
Texas and Missouri use the less-expensive 3-cable systems. Texas and Missouri use the less-expensive 3-cable systems.
Oklahoma pays more for the 4-cable systems. Oklahoma pays more for the 4-cable systems.
The 3-cable systems passed the same federally approved crash tests as the 4-cable systems. The 3-cable systems passed the same federally approved crash tests as the 4-cable systems.

By Jennifer Loren, THE OKLAHOMA IMPACT TEAM

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma Department of Transportation received hundreds of millions of federal stimulus dollars to spend on shovel-ready projects. But an Oklahoma contractor says ODOT is wasting taxpayers' stimulus money by over-paying for safety improvement projects. He says Oklahoma is paying too much for cable barriers and needs to consider using a cheaper product that's just as safe.

The cable systems are installed in highway medians to keep crossover wrecks from killing innocent drivers.

"It's all a question of are we spending our tax dollars wisely," said the contractor who didn't want to be identified fearing he'd lose business.

He believes taxpayers are losing out because ODOT is paying a premium for expensive 4-cable systems. He says the state could be installing less expensive 3-cable systems like the ones he works with. The contractor says they're just as safe and cost up to 35 percent less than the systems the state is paying for now.

The 4-cable systems the state requires must have posts set no further than 10 feet 6 inches apart. Many of the cheaper systems set the posts further apart which requires less material and less maintenance.

"Is there anything wrong with this system? Absolutely not," said the contractor. "Is there something out there that's going to benefit the taxpayers more? You bet."

According to ODOT the state pays an average of $125,000 per mile for cable barriers. Next door in Missouri, they use the cheaper systems, and pay an average of $100,000 a mile. In Texas, the Department of Transportation pays half of that, closer to $50,000 a mile.

According to their construction work plan, ODOT is installing about 80 miles of barriers this year and next.

If ODOT paid what MoDOT and TXDOT paid, the state could have saved anywhere from $2 million to $6 million on those projects.

But at the state capitol transportation officials say when it comes to cable barriers it's not an issue of cost savings.

"This is a safety feature. And we feel very comfortable to spend a little bit more money to get that added value," said Terri Angier, ODOT Spokesperson.

ODOT engineers say the cable barrier standards they've set for the state may be high, but they are proven to save lives.

Lake Hefner Parkway in Oklahoma City was once a trouble spot for crossover fatalities. Six people died in wrecks there between 1998 and 2001. ODOT installed a 4-cable barrier system there and the number of fatalities dropped immediately to just one over the next eight years.

But according to our research the cheaper barriers are just as safe.

A document from the Missouri Department of Transportation shows there were 25 deaths due to cross-over wrecks along I-44 in 2006. That number plummeted to zero in 2008 after the cheaper, 3-cable barriers were installed.

In fact, Missouri's success with the cheaper systems was singled out as a good example in the American Society of Civil Engineers' Report Card for America's Infrastructure.

Missouri engineers say they chose to use the cheaper system because it passed the exact same federally-approved crash test as the more expensive systems Oklahoma uses. But Oklahoma engineers say even the federal standards are not enough to convince them to use a cheaper system. They point out those crash tests don't include fully loaded semis. When it comes to safety or savings ODOT won't budge.

"The success we've seen in Oklahoma, we just don't want to take the chance of lowering our standards and regretting it because one or two trucks went through and really caused fatalities of innocent people," said Terri Angier, ODOT Spokesperson:

According to Angier there are $1.5 million stimulus dollars going toward cable barriers. They say the stimulus created so much competition the price of cable barriers actually dropped to the lowest prices they've seen, falling just between the prices Missouri and Texas pay.

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