Not much interest was shown by the public when Gorski Consulting posted an article on May 7, 2022 on our website regarding unrepaired damage to the median cable barrier along Highway 401 between London and Tilbury Ontario. On September 2, 2022 I took another drive along this portion of Highway 401. I observed that the problem is even worse than previously reported.
I travelled about 68 kilometres along the cable barrier between Colonel Talbot Road (near London) to Victoria Road (near Ridgetown). Along this route I observed 4 distinct areas where the cable barrier was damaged and unrepaired from previous impacts. These areas are noted below.
1st Area of Damage: East of Union Road
2nd Area of Damage: West of Furnival Road
The second area of cable barrier damage was observed while travelling westbound past Furnival Road. The cable was located at the edge of the eastbound lanes so the photos below show the view looking across the median. The area of impact damage was located just west of the overpass of Furnival Road.
Upon my return trip in the evening, travelling eastbound, I took the following photos of the same location, west of Furnival Road. In the following photos, several hundred metres west of the area of impact, it is apparent that the cable barrier has lost its tension. In fact the closest cable barrier anchorage is located about 2.8 metres west of Furnival Road. We will see shortly that the impact damage to the cable barrier is just west of Furnival Road. And it will be revealed shortly that the anchorage at the east end of the cable barrier is about 790 metres west of the overpass of Furnival Road. Therefore the cables would be loose for about 2.1 kilometres.
At the right edge of the photo below is a green sign indicating that Furnival Road is 1 kilometre ahead. However this distance may refer to the start of the exit lane and not to the overpass. We can also see the overpass of Furnival Road in the background. It is also possible to see the faint orange colour of traffic cones positioned at the impact location of the barrier. So this gives us the ability to estimate the location of the area of impact.
As we approach the area of impact we can see that the cable barrier is still without tension on all 4 cables.
Just beyond the area of impact the photos below show that the cable barrier continues to exhibit no tension in all 4 cables. This condition exists until the cable reaches an anchorage point just west of the Furnival Road overpass, as shown in the photos below.
In the photo below we see an turn-around driveway in the centre median which is also the location where the cable barrier ends at an anchorage and another anchorage begins for a new length of cable. This turn-around driveway is located 790 metres west of Furnival Road.
Note how the cable barrier is without tension at all 4 cables up to the point where it reaches the anchorage point. Then, upon gaining a new anchorage at 790 metres west of Furnival Road, the cable barrier seems to contain tension all the way up to the overpass at Furnival Road, as shown in the photos below.
3rd Area of Damage: East of Dunborough Road
Next we progress further eastward to a location about 12 kilometres east of Furnival Road, at the Dunborough Road overpass shown below. Dunborough Road is located just east of West Lorne Ontario and just over 2 kilometres west of the West Lorne En Route service centre. As can be seen in the photos, a new section of cable barrier begins at the Dunborough Road overpass along the north edge of the eastbound lanes. However, as we look closer at the anchorage point of the barrier, the cables appear to have lost their tension.
As we continue to travel around the sweeping left curve of the highway we can see, in the photos below, the loss of tension in the cables for a substantial distance.
We then reach the area of impact of the cable barrier which is located just west of the exit to the West Lorne En Route service centre. The photos below show the damage to the cable barrier resulting from this impact.
In the photo below we can see some tire marks on the far side of the median. Although I have no information about this collision these tire marks suggest that a large truck was westbound, entered the median, and then struck the cable barrier on the far (eastbound) side of the median in the foreground. Further research is needed to determine whether this suspicion is correct.
East of the area of impact the photos below show that the cable barrier has lost its tension (at least) in the top two cables. This loss of tension continues for several hundred metres until another anchorage point is reached at the location where the curve of the highway ends about 2.2 kilometres west of Coyne Road.
4th Area of Damage: West of Coyne Road
In the two photos below we see the loose cable barrier from the Dunborough Road impact and it terminates at a new anchorage point adjacent to the En Route service centre in the eastbound lanes of Highway 401. This location is about 1.4 kilometres east of Dunborough Road or 2.2 kilometres west of Coyne Road. It is also only about 350 metres west of the exit to the En Route service centre. A new length of cable barrier begins at this point.
Yet, when we look at the cables along this new section they also appear to have lost their tension. The second cable from the bottom certainly looks to be loose. In the background, next to the white truck we can see a small orange cone and this is the location of another impact the cable barrier.
I almost missed taking a photo of this additional area of damage however an out-of-focus view is shown below. In the background the entrance/exit can be seen to the En Route service centre located in the westbound side of the highway. So this location is just west of Coyne Road.
The photo below shows the status of the cable barrier just east of the area of impact. Its position can be noted by the tall masts of the lighting at the entrance to the En Route service centre on the westbound side of the highway. Also in the background is the overpass of Coyne Road. The cable barrier contains loose cables, most notably the third cable from the bottom is very loose. This is caused by the impact damage of the barrier just west of this location.
The photo below shows the cable barrier as it reaches its next anchorage point at Coyne Road. The bottom cable appears to be loose at this location. But we also know, from the previous photo, that the third cable from the bottom is also loose.
Beyond Coyne Road the photo below shows that the cable barrier starts from a new anchorage. It is not clear in this photo whether the cable in this new section contains proper tension however we did not observe any further impact damage until the damage east of Union Road which is about 20 kilometres east of this location.
The following three photos are of the damaged cable barrier just east of Union Road. These views were taken while eastbound on our return trip.
In summary impact damage to the cable barrier on Highway 401 caused the barrier cables to be loose for a distance of 2.1 kilometres west of Furnival Road. Two additional impacts to the cable barrier between Dunborough Road and Coyne Road meant that an additional 3.6 kilometres of cable was left loose. Thus a total of 5.7 kilometres of cable were observed to be loose in the 68 kilometre distance between Colonel Talbot Road and Victoria Road. Stated differently, 8.4 percent of the total cable length was observed to be in a state of disrepair. There is no information available to determine the level of danger that exists when a vehicle makes contact with loose cables from a damaged barrier. Yet my review of similar incidents in other collision environments indicates that such an interaction could result in worse injury consequences than if no barrier existed at all.
In my website article of May 7, 2022 on this topic I made the following comment which still applies:
“It is easy to get information on the effectiveness of high-tension cables barriers especially from those organizations who either sell them or use them on their highway systems. But what about information that demonstrates their in-service performance and whether the barriers are being repaired in a timely fashion? Silence.”
The level of silence today is quite deafening. There has been no news media coverage of this issue. Certainly OPP vehicles travel along Highway 401 on a regular basis yet I have not heard or read of a single complaint or warning from police about this safety hazard. And there is no reason why the Ontario Ministry of Transportation should be allowed to cause these conditions to exist.