U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Donna J. Hardy, P.E.
by Donna J. Hardy, P.E. on April 26, 2011
Regional Safety Engineer
West Virginia Department of Highways
West Virginia has some of the most breathtaking views in the US. The curvy country roads make for an enjoyable scenic ride. However, those same roads can be treacherous if the errant vehicle leaves the roadway. Over 70% of West Virginia's fatalities can be attributed to vehicles leaving the roadway. It is the highest safety concern facing WV Highway Officials. Much guidance is given to the states on how to design and construct roadways with a forgiving roadside. The question that arises often in West Virginia is what do you do when you cannot achieve any of the aspects depicted in the ideal typical section?
Many of West Virginia's roadways are literally cut into the side of the mountain with several vertical and horizontal challenges. An errant vehicle is faced with either hitting the rock face of the mountain on the one side or a vertical fall upwards of 250' on the other side of the road. In addition, the mountainous terrain allows little sunlight unto the roadside and therefore no vegetation can grow. Water runoff from the mountains creates deep roadside ditches and many areas are prone to fog.
Though fog can occur year round it is more common in the winter months. West Virginia experience all four seasons, but winter in much of the state is harsh. The constant freeze/thaw of the area causes many potholes and pavement edges to unravel.
In addition to the weather, West Virginia's pavements are exposed to a significant amount of heavy truck traffic. The coal mining industry represents an overwhelming percentage of the State's economy. This results in heavy trucks traveling the road depositing coal dust and debris as well as rutting the unpaved portion of the shoulder. Drop offs in excess of 7" have been found along rural mountainous roadways.
All of the above conditions make Safety EdgeSM a much needed technology for the safety of West Virginia. Motorists have little area to recover once they leave the roadway and Safety EdgeSM can significantly reduce the occurrence of a severe crash. When placed in tandem with Edge Line Rumble Strips (ELRS), they give motorists the best chance to stay in their lane. ELRS gives them an audible indicator they are slightly off road and Safety EdgeSM eases them back onto road if they were unable to correct in time.
We have met with industry and every department in DOH, and all were in favor of deploying Safety EdgeSM. The major concern was how to describe it in such a way that we get what we want. Industry/Construction wanted a performance specification that allows any device used to achieve the Safety EdgeSM. Traffic/Design wanted approved devices that have history of making the Safety EdgeSM. Working together we arrived at a compromise. We are currently trying 2 variations of a specification to see which gives us a better product. We have either awarded or are currently bidding 8 projects with the 2 specs (4 each) and will utilize lessons learned to develop a final specification and policy for 2012.
WVDOH has offered our contractors the ability to add Safety EdgeSM to existing jobs in addition to the 8 jobs reference above, and use of our loaner shoe to see its capabilities. We believe that much of the opposition comes from unfamiliarity with the process and if they can use the product without penalty, many concerns will be alleviated. We have also offered our loaner shoe to any contractor who wants to try Safety EdgeSM prior to them attempting to build their own device. We have provided training on Safety EdgeSM to all DOH forces and any contractor that had interest.
We are anxiously awaiting results of projects so we can move forward with adopting Safety EdgeSM as a standard practice.