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NEWS

Roller Die + Forming manufactures life-saving beams for I-65 median

By JOHN FRIEDLEIN of The News-Enterprise

LOUISVILLE - Cars and trucks in a demonstration video careen into a barrier, kicking up a cloud of dust and debris while stretching the impact-absorbing cables like rubber bands.

A Louisville company makes steel posts that hold up barrier cables - and collapse out of the way when a vehicle hits them to let the lines do the work of preventing head-on collisions. Roller Die + Forming manufactured the beams for barriers being installed along the Interstate 65 median in Hardin and nearby counties.

An Elizabethtown man pushed for the barriers after his wife and daughter died in a Hart County crossover wreck that killed a total of five people.

The installation is part of a $10 million state project that will add 44 miles of cable barriers. Concrete barriers are going in as well.

Crews last week dug deep holes for the beams along the interstate in Bullitt County.

At the other end of the process, the posts begin life in an un-post-like form. The material that arrives at Roller Die + Forming is a sheet wrapped into a five-ton coil.

It's then fed into the production line, which includes a set of rollers that flatten it into shape. And holes are punched into it wherever a computer says to.

The steel is so heavy, workers can't violently bend the material, said Glenn "Rocky" Nelson, director of sales and marketing. Rather, they must gradually curl it into shape.

When the posts are cut, so much stress is released that they flare out at one end and must be bumped back into shape. The company then ships them to a galvanizer for rust protection before they all return to the facility to be packed in bundles for delivery.

Roller Die + Forming, which is off Fern Valley Road, has made 260,000 of the beams in the past three years, according to Nelson.

Between four and five feet long, they weigh about 25 pounds each.

A metal device called a hairpin slides into a slot in the post. The hairpin's loops stick out from the post for the cables to be threaded through - so during wrecks, the hairpins and cables detach from the poles.

Roller Die + Forming supplies the Texas firm, Gibraltar Cable Barrier Systems, that landed the I-65 job.

Because of the room needed for deflection, the barriers should be installed in a wide median without a steep slope, said Ron Faulkenberry, Gibraltar general manager.

He said they are more cost-effective than other types of barriers, and they don't have to be removed and replaced like rigid guard rails.

The cost of cable barriers depends on how many lines and posts are used.

Faulkenberry said he is concerned that Kentucky requires a maximum post spacing of 10.5 feet and four cables. He said his company can space them out more and use three cables. Not only would that be less expensive, but the impacts would be less violent, he said.

As with guard rails and concrete barriers, though, the cable variety of barriers aren't designed to hold a semi. But they stop almost all crossovers. With a breaking strength of 39,000 pounds, the cables have a 98 to 99 percent capture rate, Faulkenberry said.

The cable barriers around Louisville have taken more than 500 hits since they were installed in 2006, according to the state.

"We're not promising you immortality," Faulkenberry said. "Cable barriers aren't a cure-all, fix-all for everything, and you still have to be responsible along the road. Drive smart. Be safe."