Local News

Termites Eating Away At Interstate Guardrail Supports

Posted August 2, 2002 2:41 a.m. EDT

— Drivers along interstates expect guardrails to be strong, safe and a deterrent to cross-median crashes.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is scrambling to test guardrail supports statewide, because they may not hold up when they are needed most.

A wooden post which was supporting the median guardrail along a section of Interstate 95 in Johnston County looks like it has been through a wood chipper.

The culprit there, and on guardrail supports along other interstates, is termites.

DOT engineers said the insects can really tear through the important safety supports.

"In fact, this is supposed to be a rectangular block. You can see it didn't even hold together when it was removed. A large majority of it is loose material that would not provide any strength," said Jack Cowsert, materials quality engineer.

A weakened guardrail would not slow down a car travelling at highway speeds.

Engineers have used wooden guardrail posts for years in North Carolina. A nationwide alert went out after a bus plowed through a termite-damaged guardrail in Louisiana, prompting the DOT to get on the case here.

The DOT said termite damage stretches from the mountains to the northeast coast. Six trouble spots were found in Wake County alone, mainly along Interstate 40 and US 1.

Maintenance crews are testing posts in every county, and damaged supports are replaced with termite-resistant plastic posts. The state is hustling to fix the trouble before someone is injured.

The DOT is considering banning wooden guardrail supports on all new highway construction projects.