Vowing that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will “leave no stone unturned in getting to the bottom of this issue,” agency acting administrator Gregory Nadeau told reporters Nov. 12 that re-testing of the ET-Plus 4-in.-wide guardrail end device manufactured by Trinity Products will commence the week of Nov. 17 at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.
The FHWA will determine by early 2015 whether the 4-in. version will “pass” or “fail.” If the latter, it will no longer be eligible for federal aid reimbursement, Nadeau. However, officials would not speculate on whether the FHWA would reimburse state departments of Transportation for any removal of existing installed products. The FHWA provided a preliminary rough estimate of about 200,000 installations throughout the nation. More than half of all state DOTs have suspended use of the product.
The San Antonio testing facility did not participate in the previous testing of the product in 2005 and 2010. Technical experts at the FHWA, representatives of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and members of state DOTs are invited to attend the process. “The series of tests are meant to represent the worst practical conditions on the highway system,” said Jeff Panioti, FHWA executive director.
When asked whether media would be allowed to observe, Nadeau stated that it was up to the testing facility staff. He added: “ We have said to Trinity we want to be as transparent as possible, and encourage them to do the same.”
FHWA’s other efforts are as follows, as listed on its website:
• Analyzed 2005 crash testing results by Texas Transportation Institute;
• Examined two additional ET-Plus crash tests conducted in 2010;
• Reviewed results from a 2012 AASHTO survey – performed at the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s request – of all state DOTs about performance of w-beam end terminals (ET-Plus is included in that category). If a state DOT had concerns with any of those types of terminals they were asked to identify which terminal. The results of that survey were that no state DOT identified performance or safety issues with the ET-Plus;
• Reviewed results of a 2014 AASHTO survey on ET-Plus to members of its Subcommittee on Design (48 States, PR & DC). Of the 33 States that responded, only Missouri noted specific concerns with the ET-Plus, which was shared with FHWA in October. That material is now under review;
• Reviewing the results of an October 29, 2014, study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham on "Relative Comparison of NCHRP 350 Accepted W-Beam Guardrail End Terminals."
FHWA is also:
1. Analyzing responses to an October 2014 request to all State DOTs for all information they may have on crashes involving the ET-Plus on their roads;
2. FHWA’s analysis of the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Study data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. From that study’s database FHWA identified 14 crashes involving the ET-Plus four-inch end terminal; and the available evidence did not indicate a performance issue with the device in any of these cases;
3. Analyzing guardrail end terminal crash data provided by the Missouri Dept. of Transportation; and
4. Evaluating other data sources (Fatality Analysis Reporting System, Highway Safety Information System, and Strategic Highway Research Program Safety Database) that may provide insights on the performance of the ET-Plus in the field.
Nadeau said that while Trinity had not informed the agency of the change from 5 inches to 4 inches in the 2005 testing process, the 4-in. model had nevertheless been tested and deemed safe. In response to multiple questions about the FHWA not being aware of the design change, he added, “We are always taking a look at our internal processes.”