NORFOLK -- The Federal Highway Administration announced on Friday that a guardrail deemed dangerous by a federal jury has passed the final four crash tests.
Tests on the Trinity ET-Plus guardrail end terminal were ordered by the FHWA in late 2014 after a federal jury ruled the company that makes the guardrail, Trinity Industries, had defrauded the federal government when it failed to disclose a design change it had made to the product.
A total of eight tests were conducted on the ET-Plus, four at a height of 27 3/4 inches and four a a height of 31 inches. FHWA had previously announced the tests at 27 3/4 inches passed. On Friday, FHWA said the final four tests had passed.
Continuing Coverage: ET-Plus Guardrail Investigation
Outside experts not involved in the crash testing had speculated that the final crash test had failed because a guardrail severely dented the driver-side door of a small car. On Friday's call, FHWA said that impact dented 6 3/4 inches into the car and was not severe enough to fail the test.
After the results of the final four crash tests were announced, Trinity Spokesman Jeff Eller said the company was pleased with the results and reiterated the product's safety history.
"The ET Plus® System has been successfully crash tested more times than any product of its kind. It has an unbroken chain of eligibility for federal-aid reimbursement from the FHWA," Eller said.
But the product's critics say they're disappointed in today's announcement.
Steven Lawrence, an attorney for whistleblower Josh Harman, said FHWA's passing grade is a cover up.
"The Federal Highway Administration is basically grading themselves and the last thing a bureaucrat wants to do is give themselves a failing grade," he said. "While on the surface it looks like they're grading Trinity, they're really going back to cover their tracks and make sure they don't get blamed for overlooking this crisis."
FHWA said the four-inch ET-Plus is now eligible for full federal reimbursement because it passed all eight tests. But the agency has also said it will continue evaluating the product. Two task forces have been formed in partnership with outside organizations to conduct an in-service review of the product and also figure out how to more effectively rate guardrails and approve them in the future.
That action stems, at least in part, from questions asked by various members of Congress, including Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.
Even though the FHWA has approved the product for reimbursement, it doesn't mean they'll be installed on highways again any time soon. Each state DOT has the option of approving or not approving the product for use on its highways.
In Virginia, VDOT spokeswoman Marshal Herman said Trinity has not submitted the paperwork necessary to start the process of approving the ET-Plus. The last time a product was approved for use in Virginia, Herman said, was in 2000.
Herman said VDOT engineers continue to evaluate the crash data released by FHWA in addition to its own in-service reviews and other information to decide whether or not to go forward with a bid to identify and remove all ET-Plus end terminals from the state's highways.
Lawrence praised the additional scrutiny from VDOT.
"VDOT has said that they are considering more tests. They still have bids out to replace the ET-Plus and I have faith the Commonwealth may just lead the way in solving this problem for the entire country," Lawrence said.
Eller, the Trinity spokesman, said the company is now in the process of deciding if and when it will begin shipping the ET-Plus to vendors again.