Nearly 50 times a year between 2014 and 2017, motorists on Nebraska’s Interstate 80 couldn’t stay in their lanes.

They crossed the median and crashed into oncoming traffic 247 times, according to the most recent data from the state Department of Transportation.

It’s not a problem in Lincoln and Omaha, where concrete barriers separate the lanes. And it’s less of a problem between the two cities, where the medians are 88 feet wide.

But just west of Lincoln, the median narrows to 64 feet, and the hits keep coming.

“It’s tough to say why people are crossing over; we don’t really know,” spokeswoman Jeni Campana said. “But what we can do is look at things to prevent that from happening.”

So for the first time on the interstate in Nebraska, the state is installing roughly 22 miles of steel-cable barriers, designed to stop vehicles from crossing the median, or at least slow them down.

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The $9.5 million project, between the Pleasant Dale and Utica exits, is expected to be finished by December.

Contractors have already poured the ribbon of pavement to serve as the anchor for the three-cable system, which will essentially serve as a long, low fence between the two directions of travel.

The state chose that section after analyzing crash data, Campana said. “There’s been instances of crossover crashes there, and we really need to take some steps to address it.”

Cable barriers have held tight in other states. The University of Dayton Transportation Engineering Lab recently studied more than 2,200 highway crashes in Ohio, and determined just 1.7% of vehicles involved broke through the barriers and collided with oncoming traffic.

Specifically, the barriers stopped 100% of motorcycles, 96.5% of passenger cars and nearly 86% of heavy trucks.

The state hasn’t yet identified any other stretches of I-80 as candidates for cable barriers, though it did previously install them on U.S. 75 near Omaha.

It’s not installing them along I-80 closer to Lincoln, because the 7.5-mile stretch between Northwest 56th Street and the Pleasant Dale exit is scheduled to be widened to six lanes starting next year, and that includes the wider, 88-foot median.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or [email protected].

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