KSN Investigates: Kansas Guardrails

KSN Investigates

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Do they keep you safe on the road, or are they too dangerous? It’s called the X-Lite Guardrail. Several states banned them saying they’re defective. But some of these guardrails remain on Kansas roads.

They’re designed to protect you in a crash, keeping your car from veering off the road. But critics say instead of absorbing the hit, these guardrails are going through cars like a spike. Some are blaming them for cutting off limbs and even killing people. The X-Lite guardrail is made by Lindsay Transportation Solutions. In 2017, they had about 14,000 guardrails on the roads across 29 states. But in 2020, dozens of states including Missouri and Oklahoma removed them.

Some are blaming the guardrails on at least nine fatal crashes. Kansas still has some X-Lite guardrails on the road. KSN News found out through open records requests that there are 38 places in our state where you can find these guardrails. According to the documents, there are 27 on roads run by the Kansas Department of Transportation and 11 operated by the Kansas Turnpike Authority.

(DISCREPANCY: The open records request KSN received from KDOT’s Office of Chief Counsel from November 27, 2019, says there are 27 locations where you can find X-Lite guardrails, but in KDOT’s statement, the agency says 28.)

“Each time you pass you think, is that an X-Lite,” said Emily Jansen, who is currently suing the makers of the X-Lite. “I never dreamed of being a grandparent, I dreamed about being grandparents.”

We met Jansen on the three year anniversary of her husband George Jansen’s death. In 2017, he was on his way to Cincinnati from Overland Park, Kansas to visit family.

“He had on a blue collar, and it was a little crumpled and our daughter reached up and said dad, you’re getting your evaluation, fix your shirt, you got to look good,” said Jansen.

Jansen family

Little did she or the rest of the family know, that would be the last time they’d see him alive. The crash report from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) says George’s truck drifted off of a Missouri road on a clear morning. He crashed into an X-Lite head-on. The guardrail pierced through his car and the crash threw him through the back windshield, amputating his legs, and cutting his torso. George died at the scene. Now, his wife is suing Lindsay for wrongful death.

“It’s very painful when you think our children are on these roads, our friends are on these roads, why isn’t something being done?” asked Jansen.

We reached out to Lindsay Transportation Solutions multiple times for an on-camera interview, but they declined our request. The company sent us this statement:

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has examined and re-examined the X-LITE and its in-service performance and has gathered input from state departments of transportation across the United States. In FHWA’s evaluations, the X-LITE has performed consistently with other end terminals on U.S. roads and highways and did not lead to any conclusion that the X-Lite was unsafe. Numerous states, including Kansas, have confirmed that they’ve had no negative experiences with the X-LITE.”

Lindsay Transportation Solutions
X-Lite guardrail end cap

KSN also reached out to KDOT. During an on-camera interview we asked Tom Hein, spokesman for KDOT, “We know that Kansas decided to discontinue them, why is that?”

“Due to the performance concerns that were voiced nationally, KDOT began moving away from using X-Lite terminals,” said Hein.

Hein said our state has no plans to remove all of the guardrails at once. We wanted to hear from the people who make the decisions of what goes on our roads. So we requested an interview with the heads of KDOT. They declined an on-camera interview, and also sent us a statement saying:

The Kansas state highway system has more than 15,000 guardrail end terminals, with 28 of those being X- Lite terminals. As safety is the Kansas Department of Transportation’s (KDOT) top priority, the department has a plan in place to remove these terminals as part of our regularly scheduled highway improvement projects and/or when they are damaged. KDOT began using X-Lite guardrails in January 2015, following review and approval by the Federal Highway Administration. KDOT stopped allowing the use of X-Lite guardrails on new projects in March 2017.”

KDOT

We also called Governor Laura Kelly’s office multiple times and wrote her emails. We never got a response. We also contacted every Kansas state lawmaker who sits on a transportation committee, and we called their offices and only one commented and agreed to do an on-camera interview with KSN.

“We are going to do everything possible to make sure we change these guardrails out on our Kansas roads and now that will actually be taken up in our transportation committee,” said Rep. K.C. Ohaebosim, D-Wichita.

Ohaebosim said our investigation got the attention of many lawmakers in Topeka. But he said it’s going to take time to remove all of the X-Lite guardrails.

“It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to take some time,” added Ohaebosim.

We asked Hein, “does it have to get to the point where somebody dies on a Kansas road?”

“Well, no one has died on a Kansas road because of the X-Lites that are installed right now,” said Hein.

But the attorney representing the Janse Family believes it’s only a matter of time until it happens.

“Unfortunately, the reality is, it’s going to happen in Kansas unless they pull them off the roads,” said Brad Kulhman, the Jansen Family attorney.

The federal government has been investigating Lindsay since at least June 2019. That news went public in December when the company released the information in its annual report to shareholders, disclosing the Department of Justice is investigating claims the company violated The Federal False Claims Act. While we don’t know the specifics, the law refers to knowingly making false claims to and/or defrauding the government.

In May of 2017, after receiving requests to review information on the X-LITE guardrail, the FHWA issued a memorandum stating that they found “no notable concerns with the original crash test report.” In that memorandum, states that shared the reason for removing the devices stated they were moving to devices “that are compliant with AASHTO’s Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware (MASH).”

Kansas X-LITE Locations:

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