Drones could play big role in future interstate cable barrier projects

(Photo Credit: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) – Cable barriers are popping up in several spots along Louisiana interstates and the state is now testing out a new technology to make installing the structures safer and more cost efficient.

It was a scene hard to look at: an 18-wheeler and three other cars tangled in a crash along I-10 between Lobdell and Grosse Tete on May 19. It shut down the interstate for about two hours, but luckily, this crash was not fatal, partly, DOTD officials say because of the cable barriers along that stretch of roadway.

“The cable barriers are set up to kind of act like a net to prevent those cross-over accidents,” said DOTD spokesman, Rodney Mallett.

The goal of the special barriers is to keep drivers from crossing into oncoming traffic during a crash. It’s an idea that’s catching on. Right now, more than 200 miles of Louisiana roadways have the barriers and more are in the works.

“This is something new, exciting, and it’s where the future is going,” said DOTD land surveyor, Stan Ard.

Ard says the future is also taking to the skies. For the first time ever, drones are being used to survey one of the cable barrier projects taking shape between Lafayette and Lake Charles.

“It’s a little bit more cost feasible,” Ard said. “This project between Lake Charles and Lafayette, we’re saving the state about $200,000.”

Not only is it saving money, but the pilot project is also safer and faster than traditional surveys. “We can do in about ten minutes what would take a three man crew about three days to do,” said Chad Netto, chief operating officer of Chustz Surveying, llc.

Netto is involved in every step of the process and says the drones do not just take pictures of the area, but also collect real-time data. A special technology called a LiDar sensor lets the drone capture images unlike anything done before.

“We’re able to get over the top of stuff especially structures like bridges, power lines, and the drone itself has about a thousand-foot swath,” Netto said.

While it is just a trial run for the new technology, if results are positive, the drones could be used for other projects across the state. DOTD plans to cover a total of more than 500 miles of Louisiana interstate with cable barriers, including on I-49, I-10, I-12, and I-20. Those projects could potentially all be done with the help of drones.

“It’s definitely where the future is going Scottie,” Ard said. “It’s just a matter of if we can implement it and the accuracy will meet future project’s needs.”

As soon as they get results back from the initial test, DOTD officials say they will decide whether to give future drone projects the green light.

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