VDOT to remove X-Lite guardrail terminals from state highways by end of 2019

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The Virginia Department of Transportation plans to remove all X-Lite guardrail terminals from state highways with a speed limit of 55 miles per hour or more by the end of 2019, a spokesman confirmed to News Channel 11.

The announcement comes as some other states including Tennessee remove the terminals which are meant to reduce crash injuries because of safety concerns.

VDOT says there are fewer than 500 X-Lite terminals on Virginia maintained roads with speed limits of 55 miles per hour or higher.   About 60 are in the Bristol District of Southwest Virginia, a VDOT spokesperson said.  

The agency plans to remove about 280 X-Lite terminals statewide this year.  Of those, about 35 are in the Bristol District.   The rest will be removed next year.

VDOT also said it has confirmed three crashes in which an X-Lite terminal penetrated a car.  “Of the approximately 2,300 reported guardrail terminal crashes tracked since October 2014, 79 have involved the X-Lite terminal, two of which were in the Bristol District,” said Marshall Herman, VDOT spokesperson.  “Through information VDOT has gathered, there have only been three reported crashes where an X-Lite penetrated a vehicle. Unfortunately, one of those crashes resulted in a fatality.”

Herman said there’s a reason that the removal plan focuses only roads with higher speed limits.  “We do not have evidence of any issues or penetrations with X-Lite or other terminals on roadways where speeds are under 55 mph,” Herman said.  “If we find problems with terminals on roadways with lower speeds, we will adjust our replacement plan.”

In 2016, VDOT took the unusual step of conducting independent testing of federally-approved guardrail terminals after engineers became concerned about the performance of the terminals in certain types of crashes.   Guardrail terminals – or heads – are meant to prevent guardrails from piercing cars in head-on crashes.

Based on results of VDOT’s independent test in August 2016, the agency stopped the use of X-Lite terminals and started removing them in areas considered to be high-risk for crashes.   “It caused enough concern that we removed it from our approved products list, and they’re also included in this pilot program of replacements,” said Marshall Harmon, VDOT spokesperson, in a May 2017.  “It’s considered obsolote.”

TDOT called for the immediate removal of all X-Lite terminals statewide in early 2017 after four deaths in crashes involving the terminal.

One of the crashes killed Hannah Eimers, a 17 year-old from Loudon County.   Her father, Steve Eimers, since has traveled to multiple states pushing for a national recall of X-Lite terminals.

Eimers said he was encouraged by VDOT’s announcement.  “VDOT’s intentions to remove these deadly Lindsay X-Lite guardrail ends from the roadside is a good first step,” he told News Channel 11 Tuesday night.  “I would challenge VDOT to expedite this removal with a goal of removing these defective units by the end of 2018. We can never bring my daughter Hannah, or the young woman killed in Fauquier county back, but we can honor their lives by ensuring no other family shares in this horrific grief.”

Last year, VDOT launched a strategic guardrail terminal replacement program in an effort to move toward new federal safety standard.  VDOT says its removed 150 obsolete guardrail terminals so far and plans to remove another 530 terminals this year.   X-Lite was one of the types of terminals identified for removal and replacement.   

Updating terminals will cost VDOT as much as $5 million a year, the agency said.

Lindsay Corporation, maker of the X-Lite terminal has said the product met federal safety standards clearing it for use.   The company recently created a website to answer questions about the safety of the guardrail terminal, and Lindsay recently issued this statement to News Channel 11 about the X-Lite terminal.

“Lindsay Transportation Solutions builds road safety equipment that reduces risks for drivers on America’s roads. Lindsay proactively offers a variety of training resources to help states and contractors with proper hardware installation and maintenance, such as road safety tours, a mobile app available in four languages, and onsite training. While X-LITE has successfully passed crash and safety tests in accordance with Federal standards, there is no road safety equipment that can prevent injury every time a driver fails to stay on the road. Lindsay continues to work collaboratively with road safety stakeholders on national initiatives to enhance safety on America’s roadways.”

Lindsay Corporation is based in Nebraska.   On Monday, that state’s transportation officials announced a plan to suspend the use of X-Lite guardrail end caps, according to reports.

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