Cost-cutting concerns spark guardrail debate

WAVY

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – Claims of cost-cutting created dangerous roads.

That’s the basis of a billion-dollar federal trial that just began in Texas involving a Virginia man. He said Trinity Industries secretly re-designed part of the guardrails they then supplied to several states – including the Commonwealth. 10 On Your Side has been digging into the details of the lawsuit, and VDOT’s push to protect you.

DOCUMENT: Trinity lawsuit

VDOT spokeswoman Marshall Herman said they’re aware of one report of the modified ET-Plus end terminal for guardrails possibly causing injury to someone in Virginia. It’s an ongoing investigation. But since they were admittedly unaware of Trinity’s changes to guardrails like so many other states, they’re not waiting for a definitive answer on that driver – they’re taking action for everybody’s safety now.

VDOT said since 2006 they’ve paid for and installed 11,000 guardrails and treatments across the commonwealth meant to protect you in the event of a crash. But the lawsuit alleges that one of the companies they’ve contracted with for years, Trinity Industries made cost-cutting changes that aren’t just dangerous, but could be deadly now that their product, the ET-Plus guardrail, has been secretly redesigned.

“We can’t stress enough about safety and having the right information to make sure we’re putting a safe product out on our roadways,” said Herman. “The product was modified to a degree that it was considered a different product by VDOT standards.”

VDOT admits they approved the ET-Plus in 2000 but knew nothing about the changes that Trinity made to them in 2005, as they should have to approve them before they went on the roads, until January of 2013. This whistle blower lawsuit by a Virginia man who used to be in the industry alleges that Trinity “knowingly presented a false claim for payment” and that the new guardrails are “illegal, and moreover fail at an alarming rate, thereby killing and maiming citizens of the US including by impaling drivers and passengers with the very guardrails that were originally intended to protect them.”

“We requested additional information from Trinity Industries, Inc. in May and they provided everything but the crash test data,” the lawsuit stated.

Now VDOT has sent this letter to Trinity Industries demanding more, including crash tests at an accredited facility with department of transportation representatives and consultants present to verify the results being debated in court. Trinity has until Oct. 24 to reply.

Not every guardrail on the roads was manufactured by Trinity Industries. But they are one of the nation’s largest suppliers. The company spokesperson was unable for comment Wednesday.

VDOT said they’re reviewing procedures to keep this from happening again. WAVY also asked what happens if the modified ET-Plus guardrails are found to be faulty and was told they’ll have to be removed because they’re not approved in the state. But since there’s no inventory list of which guardrails are actually Trinity products, VDOT is trying to figure that out right now as well.

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