LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — Imagine working on a project for over a decade, just for an 80,000-pound tractor-tanker to barrel right into it.
But that was precisely the goal for Midwest Roadside Safety Facility and engineering students at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
A team of researchers have been working towards a design for shorter, slimmer concrete roadside barriers. The current model in use is 90 inches tall and the test to approve it was in the late 1980s at the Texas Transportation Institute.
The prototype that MRSF Director Ron Faller and his team of researchers created stands at just over five feet tall at 62 inches.
Designing a new concrete barrier was one thing — managing to test that prototype in a manner that would be safe and produce reliable crash data — came with 90 metric tons of pressure.
The chosen vehicle would be a 2010 Freightliner Columbia, pulling a 1997 LBT T4249 tanker loaded with 7,000 gallons of water in order to bring it up to 80,000 pounds, which is the maximum weight allowed on interstate highways. It was outfitted with both a remote braking system and a guidance system.
The test occurred at the edge of the Lincoln Municipal Airport, the first in the United States in more than 30 years for a Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware (MASH) Test Level 6 truck with a tanker and not a box truck, according to Cody Stolle, research assistant professor at UNL.
The vehicle was hooked up to a cable system and pulled up to a speed of 50 mph, then released from the cable at a designated point in order to hit the barrier with the same momentum.
According to a UNL press release, "the barrier test went exactly as predicted," even striking the concrete barrier in the "worst-case scenario" angle of 15 degrees.
“For the purposes of containment, this test was phenomenal,” Stolle said. “This would have prevented the vehicle from penetrating past that line and that barrier into opposing traffic or off of a bridge. The barrier performed exactly as it should.”
Analyzing the crash data and working with state transportation departments to accept the standard design may take six to 18 months, including time designated for the bidding and road installation process.