Virginia's transportation department this month followed Missouri, Nevada and Massachusetts in taking off a controversial guardrail end-terminal model from its approved highway-products list. The ET-Plus model, which includes a steel fixture that is meant to absorb a vehicle's impact, is the subject of various lawsuits claiming the fixture has acted, instead, as a deadly spear.
In an Oct. 10 letter to a sales manager with Trinity Highway Products LLC, the manufacturer of the ET-Plus, the Virginia Dept. of Transportation requested additional documentation regarding the "ET-Plus tangent w-beam guardrail terminal," stating that the response to VDOT's original May 13 request was not enough.
After VDOT approved the use of the original ET-Plus system in 2000, the letter notes, Trinity "made undisclosed modifications to the ET-Plus in 2005. The modified ET-Plus is a different product than that approved by VDOT." The modification shortens to 4 in. the 5-in. channels, a change which some believe causes the guardrail to jam up, causing the stabbing effect.
VDOT requested the additional information by Oct. 24, says spokesperson Marshall Herman. On Oct. 15, the agency sent a memo to its area engineers stating that, while the original model with 5-in. channels is still on the approved product list, the modified version is not. Contractors that might already have bought the unapproved product for installation on active projects have an option to wait until after Oct. 24 or else proceed to obtain an approved product.
This month, a retrial commenced in Marshall, Texas. Joshua Harman, a Trinity competitor, filed a false-claims lawsuit on behalf of the government, claiming the company never notified the Federal Highway Administration of the altered model but continued to receive funding. The first case in July was declared a mistrial.