Volume 93, Issue 16

Friday, September 24, 1999


Setting the record

401 the highway to recovery

Beach tank a peace preserver or murdering machine?

Beach tank a peace preserver or murdering machine?

Join the anti-conformity club

401 the highway to recovery

Ontario's Transportation Minister recently announced an action plan for safer highways in Ontario. The strategic plan will include long-term infrastructure planning to ensure future development meets safety and traffic requirements as well as increased enforcement by the Ontario Provincial Police and Ministry of Transportation.

The Ministry will also begin several upgrades to Highway 401 between London and Windsor, including fully paved outside shoulders with rumble strips, median rumble strips with one metre paved shoulders and reflective pavement markers on curved portions of the highway.

Highways must be designed so that they are forgiving of human error. Driver loss of control on gravel shoulders precipitates many serious crashes including many median crossover and rollover collisions. Paving of gravel shoulders with the use of a continuous rumble strip to alert the inattentive driver is a sensible solution to this problem.

Paved shoulders also provide area for collision avoidance and can be used to route traffic safely through construction zones. All interstate highways in the United States have paved shoulders for safety and maintenance reasons. The highway upgrades proposed by the government are a good first step to address the roadway factors in crashes.

While critics of Minister Turnbull's announcements agree that paved shoulders are needed, many feel that the 401 between London and Windsor should be immediately widened to six lanes with median barriers.

It has been frequently noted in the media that after the 401 from London to Woodstock was improved with six lanes, paved shoulders and median barriers, there was a significant reduction in fatalities.

There are some major differences between the two stretches of highway and roadway improvements are not a cure-all.

The highway between London and Woodstock had a very narrow median. The median ditch between London and Windsor is much wider and will contain many errant vehicles and prevent the majority of crossover crashes.

Median barriers are not a panacea and impacts with barriers can be severe. Vehicles can rebound off of these barriers back into the travel lanes and potentially into the path of a heavy truck. Some researchers report that median barriers increase the frequency of injury producing crashes and should only be used when median widths are very narrow.

Barriers will almost certainly be needed between London and Windsor when the 401 is widened and the median ditch filled and paved over. However, until this roadway widening occurs, barriers are not very practical.

Median barriers are designed to deflect and contain the errant vehicle and must be placed relatively close to the roadway to reduce the probability of a vehicle striking the barrier at a sharp angle. It is not feasible to position a barrier in the centre of the median from London to Windsor before the median is paved and the roadway widened to six lanes.

Traffic volumes between London and Windsor are relatively low although heavy truck traffic is rapidly increasing. The volume of traffic between London and Woodstock was much higher when this section of highway was widened and barriers installed. While extensive highway improvements will eventually be required between London and Windsor there is not an immediate need for road way widening.

Large highway construction projects do not happen overnight and it is desirable that work commence well before this major trade route becomes congested.

Kevin McClafferty
Senior Research Engineer
UWO Accident Research Team

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Copyright The Gazette 1999