For a driver who has lost control of a vehicle, a guardrail can be the last thing preventing a crash into a tree or building, or a roll down an embankment.
“It has saved lives,” said Michael Black, South Carolina Department of Transportation engineer.
Through Friday, six nighttime guardrail repair projects are happening on local streets, highways and the interstate that will require lane closures and extra care from drivers.
The work is under way on Interstate 26 westbound. It begins tonight on College Park Road, S.C. Highway 642, U.S. Highway 17, Calhoun Street and S.C. Highway 30. The interstate work is happening from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. The other locations will be affected from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The guardrail improvements require the closure of one lane at each work site. Barricades, cones and flashing arrows will direct drivers.
Black is maintenance supervisor for DOT District 6, which includes Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. In the six-county region, up to $800,000 is spent annually to tend to damaged guard rails.
“It’s something that we definitely pay attention to. It’s a safety factor,” he said.
Such measures take on added importance because on Wednesday federal officials reported a 9 percent increase in motor vehicle traffic fatalities for the first half of 2012, the largest jump during the first six months of any year since data was first collected in 1975.
The previous highest increase during the first half of the year was 6.4 percent in 1979, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Black said the DOT District 6 office typically oversees 15 guardrail repairs monthly.
Statewide, the agency is responsible for the inspection, maintenance and repair of more than 8 million linear feet of guardrail as well other roadside safety features, such as 470 miles of median cable barrier .
The DOT is studying I-26 fatalities from Orangeburg to Charleston, where 57 deaths happened from 2006 to 2009.
That is 42 percent of all fatalities on the interstate, which makes the stretch of the highway the most dangerous in the state for fatal crashes.
Engineers are looking at crash patterns to see what improvements might help with safety.
The guardrail projects happening through Friday include I-26 westbound at mile marker 208.5.
The other projects are College Park Road at Crowfield Boulevard, S.C. Highway 642 just east of Meeting Street, U.S. Highway 17 a half-mile south of Hope Plantation Lane, Calhoun Street at S.C. Highway 30 and S.C. 30 at Harborview Road.