APA drops mandate for rusty guardrails

RAY BROOK - The Adirondack Park Agency has apparently caught up to science, at least when it comes to highway guardrails.

Adirondack Park Agency officials announced July 9 that the agency will no longer require those rusty, rustic guardrails to be exclusively used on highway construction projects.

Once touted as an environmental innovation, the oxidized guardrails erected along the state's highways in recent years have been failing at an alarming rate -- disintegrating in only a few years rather than the expected lifespan of 40 to 50 years.

The guardrails are made of an alloy, Cor-Ten, that's intended to rust on the surface, supposedly saving repainting costs while looking weathered and blending pleasantly with the scenery.

But state engineers are finding that the alloy is decaying prematurely due to oxidizing too much, requiring replacement of guardrails all across the state.

The APA is now abandoning their policy to require that the inferior guardrails of the inferior alloy be used, APA Deputy Director Mark Sengenberger said July 9.

"The State DOT is currently replacing the rustic guardrails with galvanized box-beam rails and there is evidence that the rustic rails deteriorate in as little as five to eight years," he said. "Standard galvanized rails will now be lining most of Adirondack roads."

Cor-Ten, which is steel with 2 percent copper, is supposed to rust on the surface creating a weather-proof barrier, but as a material for guardrails, it simply cannot endure the water and salt that it is exposed to on roadways, according to DOT spokesman Skip Carrier.

Replacing the guardrails over the next several years will cost about $140 million statewide, Carrier said.

In the Adirondack Park, there are 251 miles of roadway with the rustic rails, and replacement is expected to cost state taxpayers $34.4 million, Carrier said.

In Warren County alone, there are 91 miles of those deficient guardrails, and replacement is likely to cost $12.5 million or more.

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