Sunday, July 22, 2018
Public safety

Selmon Expressway lacks guardrails on half its length, but operators say it's still safe

TAMPA — After the Lee Roy Expressway crash that killed three people Thursday, some witnesses questioned why there is no guard rail between the eastbound and westbound lanes.

The agency that operates the expressway says the highway's design is not to blame.

Friday afternoon, a woman speeding in a Kia knocked a Hyundai carrying three people across a grass median and into oncoming traffic, police said. The Hyundai struck two other cars and burst into flames, killing everyone inside and injuring another driver.

Police charged the driver, Amber Nicole Perera of Brandon, with driving under the influence.

Don Rogers, a Seffner man who attempted to save one of the victims, speculated that guard rails in between the lanes would have prevented the deadly crash. Another driver who saw the smoke, David Mayer of Tampa, had the same thought.

"I was always wondering why there's no guard rails," he said.

The urban section of the expressway has no guard rails between the lanes and stretches for at least half the length of the 15-mile roadway, said Susan Chrzan, a spokeswoman for the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority.

Chrzan said the standards that designers follow when determining where to place guard rails are based on accident rates. The location of the crash has had just one previous crossover incident in the past four years, a single-car crash. Having open medians allows emergency responders to get to the scenes of crashes more quickly, she said.

"There's a huge advantage for our first responders. If you put a guardrail up, you need to make sure there's space so that the responder doesn't have to go all the way down to Gandy to turn around," she said.

Chrzan added that guardrails can also cause a "pinball effect," where cars that swerve out of their lanes ricochet back into traffic, which can be more dangerous.

As safe as designers try to make roads, she said, engineering can't prevent dangerous driving.

"You have someone who is blatantly flouting the rules, and the most horrible thing happened," she said.

"Everybody wants to blame something. To me, it's hard to blame the road."

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