Caltrans wheels out barrier to protect road workers

Caltrans has developed a protective road barrier — nicknamed “shields of steel” by the agency — to protect maintenance workers while they’re performing roadway repairs along busy highways.

Caltrans officials announced this week that they started developing the Balsi Beam Trailer in 2003 after two Bay Area highway workers were hit by an impaired driver whose car crashed into a work zone. One of the men, Mark Balsi, lost a leg in the crash.

“We’ve made great efforts to improve worker safety, through the years developing barriers and shadow vehicles to provide protection from errant vehicles that penetrate work zones,” Rich Krumholz, director of District 5, which includes San Luis Obispo County, said in a news release.

With a typical work zone, officials said, shadow trucks are placed in front of and behind the zone, but workers do not have protection from vehicles crashing into the side.

Each side of the trailer has high-strength steel box beams capable of extending horizontally. Using hydraulic power, each beam can rotate to either side of the trailer and extend up to 30 feet.

The prototype cost $217,000 to build, but Caltrans officials say they expect the price to drop as other models are produced.

Five models are in operation statewide, including one on the Central Coast, which was recently used on the Salinas River Bridge on Highway 101 in King City as crews repaired a guardrail.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.