THE U.S. DEPARTMENT of Transportation reports our highways are safer. The 2008 fatality rate, the number of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, was 1.28, the lowest on record. A year earlier it was 1.36. Vehicle miles traveled in 2008 fell by about 3.6%, to 2.92 trillion miles. The fatality death rate resulted from the decline in miles traveled, says the DOT.

But there could be another reason. When SAFETEA-LU was enacted more than four years ago, Congress established the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP). Its goal was to significantly reduce highway fatalities and serious injuries. The bill provided a considerable increase in funding, nearly double that of the previous legislation. States are now required to develop and implement a Strategic Highway Safety Plan that involves a comprehensive, data-driven approach to highway safety. The HSIP also includes set-aside funds to improve safety on rural roads and at railway crossings.

As efforts go forward to enact the new highway bill, there is a case to be made for increased investing in safety improvements. When this happens, producers will be ready to help profit. And involvement doesn't require a huge financial investment—just a little initiative.

For example, L&R Precast Concrete Works in Mission, Texas, has discovered how to be a part of the safety portion of a highway project by casting safety end treatments (SET). These units are commonly installed at the discharge ends of culverts in the right-of-way areas on highways and roads. The elements' end walls have an upward slope. If a vehicle runs off the road, it deflects upward rather than slamming to a complete stop.

While the idea of a precast safety end treatment isn't exactly new, the producer's patented design is. Conventional safety end walls are not designed to control the overgrowth of grass and other vegetation, nor to control erosion along the elements' sides.

But the L&R design mitigates this maintenance problem.

Maintenance savings

“When TexDOT engineers tested our system in the field, they recognized the potential savings to their maintenance crews, and an increased element of safety for the traffic,” says Ruffino Garza, the producer's president. The patent was issued in 2004.

“The base has a deep-ending flange at its outer end, upright wall at its inner end, and a opening in the wall to register with the opening in an abutting pipe culvert,” Garza says. “Upright wings on each side of the base connect with the uprights end wall. The side walls taper downward from the upright end wall to the end of the base. The side walls have outwardly protruding wings on either side to prevent erosion and overgrowth of grass.”

Road contractors also benefit from the precast design. The elements allow fast installation and can be completed just after final grading. They help reduce any erosion during the project. And contractors can easily move them if there is an unexpected change on the job. “Contractors have found they can decrease their wrap-up time and get paid faster using SET,” says Garza.

The precast producer in south Texas has been shipping the element across the state and offers the product to producers across the country through licensing agreements.

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