Tuesday, July 10, 2007

On Their Guard

On Their Guard
Rio Vista Firm On Cutting Edge Of Technology In Freeway Barriers
By Shelly Meron/Business Writer

Jeff Shewmaker, marketing manager for Rio Vista-based Barrier Systems Inc., stands next to the BarrierGuard 800, a steel safety barrier system. (Ryan Chalk/The Reporter)

With so much freeway congestion, it's only fitting that a company making some of the latest technology in freeway barriers is located in Solano County. Rio Vista-based Barrier Systems Inc. came to the area in 1991, and today produces several guard rail products, including a light-weight steel barrier and a moveable concrete barrier that can be used to re-direct traffic during high congestion.

The company's BarrierGuard 800 is a steel barrier that was recently used on I-5 near Redding to replace a small section of freeway barrier that was often hit by motorists. Barrier Systems Inc.'s chief operating officer, Chris Sanders, said the product provides an exciting alternative to freeway and bridge contractors.

"It's lightweight, so it's easy to transport," Sanders said. "And the life expectancy of steel barriers is much longer than that of a concrete barrier that's being moved" because concrete barriers break easily in transport.

Sanders said traditional concrete barriers weigh about 6,000 lbs., compared with 1,200 lbs. for a steel barrier of the same length. He also said a truck could hold 600 linear ft. of the steel barriers, compared with only 100 linear ft. of the traditional type.

"If you're trying to deliver some to a job site, you can drive one-sixth of the trucks," he explained.

The barriers are also quicker to assemble, using only one bolt with a crew of three capable of assembling up to 1,000 ft. of the barrier per hour, according to the company's Web site.

It can also be safer in certain circumstances, causing less damage to a car or to the barrier itself in the event of impact during a crash.

"They have a lower deflection," he said. "These barriers are very high performing barriers."

Although the upfront costs of installing the steel barriers is about three times more expensive than traditional concrete barriers - mostly because of the high cost of steel - Sanders said the costs are offset in the long-run.

"Yes, it costs more today, but it lasts much longer," he explained, adding that companies will also save fuel in transport because the barriers are lighter. "It is, upfront, a more expensive product. But over the life of the product, it is similar or better (in cost)."

The BarrierGuard 800 is widely used in Europe, but has also been used in projects in Georgia, Minnesota, New Jersey and South America. Sanders said about 150 miles of this technology have been used all over the world.

One of Barrier Systems Inc.'s other products is a moveable concrete barrier that can be used to close off certain areas on construction sites, as well as to direct traffic.

The barriers are lighter, so they can be easily moved several times a day at a work site if necessary. Traditional temporary barriers at some projects aren't moved for weeks, or even months, because they are so heavy and would take more time and money to move.

Even more exciting, says Sanders, is how the moveable barriers are being used to off-set traffic congestion. He cites the San Diego-Coronado Bridge in southern California as an example, where the barriers are moved depending on the time of day and what direction heavy traffic is headed.

"What the (barrier) system allows you to do is manage traffic congestion," he said. "We can create extra lanes in peak traffic direction, then reverse it in the afternoon for the afternoon commute. If there's unused capacity on one side, we can use those lanes."

It would seem California would be quick to install these barriers in other, heavily-congested areas. But it turns out the state is a bit behind in implementing the new technology.

"Other states have adopted it far more readily than we have," Sanders said. "It just hasn't been used (in California) as much. You're working with engineers and state governments. It's a slow process."

Sanders said there are future plans to implement the moveable barriers on the Golden Gate Bridge, but he did not have a specific timeline for that project.

He was optimistic, however, about the future of the barriers in California, and around the country.

"There are a lot of bridges that have to get fixed in the U.S.," he said. "We believe that it will be used in a lot of bridge repair projects around the country.

"I think it will (change)," he said of the slow move toward the new barriers. "We're making progress."

Gerrit Dyke, senior engineer with Rio Vista-based Barrier Systems Inc., pulls up a rendering of a crash cushion design. (Ryan Chalk/The Reporter)

Shelly Meron can be reached at business@thereporter.com.

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