PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — They are our guardians, there to keep our lapses on the road survivable. We wisk by them and never give a second thought to how a guardrail begins.
Steve Eimers says, “Nothing prepares you to be the parent of a dead child.”
Eimers is on a grief-driven campaign after losing his 17-year-old daughter, Hanna, in a guardrail accident in Tennessee in 2016.
“It’s one thing to lose your child to an innocent accident, but we lost our daughter to a defective product,” he says.
Eimers has his crosshairs on the X-Lite Guardrail End, which he blames for Hanna’s death. The X-Lite is designed to telescope on impact, absorbing the force of the crash and protecting the occupants of the vehicle. In Hanna Eimers accident, the X-Lite impacted on the driver’s door, penetrating into the passenger compartment and killing her on impact.
Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards says, “We have been contacted by Mr. Eimers, who, unfortunately, lost his daughter in Tennessee.”
Secretary Richards says PennDOT is currently doing an inventory to pinpoint where X-Lites have been installed statewide.
Even as they do the inventory, Secretary Richards points out, “We have had no knowledge of any fatal accidents that have involved the X-Lite guardrail.”
While the full inventory is ongoing, PennDOT did provide KDKA a list of X-Lites in use in its District 11, which covers Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties.
Thirty-one of the X-Lite guardrail end treatments are in use on the recently-renovated airport expressway. They are on both sides of the road, in the median, and on the ramps to Pittsburgh International Airport.
Ten X-Lites are in place on the recently-renovated Parkway North. There is an X-Lite at the exit ramp at Bellevue, and another as the Southbound side of 279 makes the curve over Camp Horne Road.
Several X-Lites were installed as part of the reconstruction of Route 65 on the North Side. One sits directly behind Heinz Field on the entrance ramp going up to the Fort Duquesne Bridge.
There’s an X-Lite in the middle of the ramps at the south end of the Glenfield Bridge.
X-Lites were also used in the reconstruction of the Pine Creek section of McKnight Road.
Several stand watch on Route 65 in the Baden area.
You’ll find an X-Lite in the Fairywood Industrial Park, next to Chartiers Creek near the Amazon Sorting Center.
There’s an X-Lite on Route 208, just north of Oak Ridge Drive in Lawrence County.
You’ll also find one on Westwood Drive in Beaver County halfway between Midland and Ohioville.
There are a couple of them on Chapel Drive in Beaver County, not far from the Connequenessing Creek.
And as you leave downtown New Castle, heading west on US 224, you’ll see five X-Lites on the job.
Secretary Richards says, “We have made a decision as of Feb. 9 that we are no longer using this material.”
Meaning no more new installations. But what about all the X-Lites that are already in place?
Secretary Richards says, “It’s important to recognize that the FHWA has not taken that material off of their supply list, so they are allowing it still to be used and we’re waiting to hear what their guidelines are.”
The Federal Highway Administration says in a statement to KDKA: “Our research, and repeated calls for information from the states, do not support claims that this specific type of guardrail performs different than others.”
The maker of the X-Lite, Lindsay Transportation Solutions, goes a step further saying the FHWA research on X-Lite “did not lead to any conclusion that… the Lindsay X-Lite was unsafe.”
A CBS News investigation found 13 deaths across the country “may” be related to the X-Lite. Eleven states have started removing and replacing the X-Lites led by Tennessee where four people have died.
As for Pennsylvania:
KDKA’s John Shumway: “Is removing the X-Lite ends a possibility?”
Sec. Richards: “We’re going to look into that. If the feds say they need to be removed, we’re going to follow federal guidelines.”
New safety guideline from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials go into effect at the end of June. Those new guidelines remove X-Lite and a number of other guardrail ends from the group eligible for reimbursement for new construction. But the guidelines and the FWHA stop short of suggesting or recommending that existing X-Lites should be removed.
That angers Eimers, who says, “To see the Federal Highway Administration be this dismissive is insulting.”
Eimers is continuing his campaign to have X-Lites replaced even thought the Tennessee Department of Transportation determined the X-Lite that went through Hanna’s car actually performed as designed. It was the angle of the car hitting on a vulnerable point that created the tragedy.
The experts agree there are a lot of variables that go into an accident involving a guardrail end. Speed, angles, point of impact are all things that can dramatically effect the result of impact.
While the installation of an X-Lite cost PennDOT $2,500 each and there are an estimated 2,000 statewide, Secretary Richards says money is not a consideration.
“Safety is always the foremost topic in our minds here, and so we’re taking a look,” she said.
And while that process continues, the X-Lites will remain in place.