Causeway officials consider investing in new guard rails

Published: May. 19, 2014 at 11:15 PM CDT
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Causeway managers are exploring new ways of making the bridge safer, and with proposals running as high as $50 million, many wonder who might pay.

It happens, on average, once every five years. A vehicle goes off the southbound side of the Causeway, killing the driver.

The Causeway Commission is working with Texas A&M, on a series of options to improve guardrails - a lot of them. Forty-eight miles worth if they do just one span, nearly 100 miles of new rail if they improve both northbound and southbound.

"All of them would be a retrofit with a new steel section on top of the concrete that we have today," said Causeway General Manager Carlton Dufrechou.

The old southbound span appears to be more dangerous, as the guardrail is just 25 inches high. The newer northbound span guardrail is 31 inches high. The upper rail on the southbound side was designed as a handrail and was never meant to stop cars - cars that were much different in the 1950s when that span was built.

"The prevalence of vehicles was big Detroit iron, heavy centers of gravity, " said Dufrechou.

Now, with the prevalence of trucks and SUVs, the old guardrail is often too low, providing less of a barrier.

Causeway officials have applied to the federal government for a $50 million grant to try and raise the rails as high as 46 inches. But they've been turned down twice before, and might consider a toll increase in the future. Bridge officials said they were turned down last year because the program was committed to urban road improvements.

"You can't put a price on life. I think they should spend the money," said motorist Mike Barnes.

"We're gonna do everything we can first," said Dufrechou, referring to the possibility of an increase in tolls.

Causeway officials will test the new rails this summer in two or three spots.

Meantime, they will continue to seek funding for a guardrail system that they believe will make crossing the lake much safer.

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