By Victor O'Brien
Fort Hood Herald
While the full expansion of U.S. Highway 190 doesn't have a construction date, the Texas Department of Transportation isn't waiting for it to make U.S. 190 safer.
Beginning Jan. 4, construction crews started digging holes for placement of a $1.5 million cable barrier system along U.S. 190. The safety system is expected to reduce and possibly eliminate head-on collisions, which have killed several Central Texas residents in the last few years.
TxDOT expects the project to be completed during the summer, spokesman Ken Roberts said Wednesday.
The project will install approximately 19 miles of reinforced cable in the median from Fort Hood's main gate to Interstate 35 in Belton.
"What we're looking to do is increase the safety of vehicles on the highway," Roberts said. "This will prevent vehicles from going one direction on the highway to the other and prevent head-on collisions."
When a vehicle drives into the median, the cable acts like a net and catches them before they cross into oncoming traffic.
The potentially fatal crashes are rare, but come with heightened risks. During 2008, five people died in cross-median accidents along 190. In 2009, nobody died, but at least four people were severely injured in cross-median crashes in Killeen and Harker Heights, according to Herald archives.
In the most recent crash, a Harker Heights police officer suffered severe injuries when he struck a deer, careened across the highway and smashed into an oncoming car.
Cross-median head-on collisions cause an "exponential increase" in the likelihood of death or serious injury, Harker Heights police chief Mike Gentry said in December.
During the lane expansion of U.S. 190 from Fort Hood to Copperas Cove, TxDOT installed cement barriers in 2008. The cable system is safer for drivers than being stopped by cement, Roberts said.
The cables could be replaced by cement barriers when TxDOT finishes the U.S. 190 expansion, Roberts said. The system requires additional median space that may not be available after the expansion.
"It's not like sliding down a nice, soft rope. It is a steel-braided cable. It will bring the vehicle to a halt, but it's not like running into a concrete barrier," Roberts said in December.
Drivers are urged to be cautious and slow for construction crews during the process.