Monday's fatal crash on Versailles Road in Fayette County has renewed debate about whether the busy artery needs a median barrier to prevent crossover wrecks.
Mark Underwood of Lexington said he thinks a cable barrier or guardrail would have prevented a collision on Versailles Road that has left him in pain.
On a rainy day in May 2009, an eastbound motorist lost control of the vehicle, which crossed the median and slammed into Underwood's westbound car.
"The back end of her car hit the front end of mine," he said. "I ended up with two ruptured discs in my cervical spine, a bulging disc in the thoracic and lumbar, a knee injury, an elbow injury, and lots of cuts and scrapes in my head. I saw that car coming at me in nightmares for months and months."
Underwood, 53, a real estate broker and appraiser, said he deals with the pain daily.
"I've had several rhizotomies, where they cut the nerves to deaden the pain," he said. He's also had a spinal-cord stimulator implanted to relieve the chronic pain.
Underwood said he thinks the possibility of a median barrier "should be looked into," especially in the wake of Monday's three-vehicle crash that killed Maddie Jackson, 18, a senior at Woodford County High School.
Underwood coached Jackson when she was younger and playing in an Upward Basketball program at Woodford County Community Christian Church. He wonders, "If that barrier had been in place, who knows? Maddie might still be with us."
Lexington police said it appeared the accident started in the inbound lanes of Versailles Road, when Jackson's car struck another vehicle. Both then crossed the median to collide with a third car.
The crash highlights the need for a median barrier, said Mike Kauppi, a former president of Westmorland Neighborhood Association. The crash happened east of the Westmorland subdivision entrance.
"There's absolutely nothing to keep a car that loses control from going into the opposing traffic," Kauppi said. "It's something that a number of us out here feel would be warranted or very beneficial."
Kauppi said he wrote a letter this week to Urban County Council member Ed Lane about investigating the possibility of a median barrier.
In addition, Kauppi said, he asked the state Department of Highways about the possibility of a center barrier before the road was resurfaced in 2013.
"The answer was there wasn't a barrier there before and they didn't intend to put one (there) as part of the resurfacing project, either," Kauppi said.
There are a couple of reasons why Versailles Road doesn't have median barriers, Natasha Lacy, spokeswoman for the Department of Highways, said in an email.
First, there are several entrances and driveways that require access, and a barrier would remove that access.
"That is why the median we built is mountable" so motorists may drive onto it when turning left into an entrance, Lacy wrote.
Second, designs and installations for barriers must meet criteria established by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
Versailles Road doesn't meet the criteria for cable barriers and doesn't have the depressed, sloped median that would make it effective, Lacy said. The effectiveness of a cable barrier system is influenced by its placement on the side slope and the directions from which it can be hit, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Areas of "controlled access" — where there are not numerous entrances and driveways, such as portions of New Circle Road and portions of interstate highways — can be candidates for median barriers.
A cable barrier system costing $2.5 million was installed in 2007 in the median of an 11-mile stretch of New Circle Road, from Richmond Road almost to Old Frankfort Pike. It is designed to be more forgiving than concrete barriers or steel guardrails, reducing the risk of serious injury to people in vehicles that strike the median and keeping vehicles from crossing over into oncoming traffic. The barriers stretch when hit, then spring back.
But cable barriers aren't foolproof and won't stop vehicles traveling at high speeds, state officials have said.
Nevertheless, Joe Floyd of Washington County, an investment adviser and frequent commuter to Lexington, said he thought a barrier of some sort was needed. His father, the Rev. J.G. Floyd, pastor of South Elkhorn Baptist Church, died in 1973 when a westbound tractor-trailer hydroplaned on a wet Versailles Road, crossed the median and ran into his eastbound vehicle.
The Rev. Floyd had gone to Frankfort several times to talk with transportation officials about safety issues along Versailles Road. Turning lanes and other improvements came along in later years, "but as you know, it still has a ways to go," Joe Floyd said.
Today, 38,000 vehicles use Versailles Road daily. Underwood and Kauppi said they think barriers still need to be pursued.
"The speeds on that road are comparable to New Circle," Underwood said. "It really gets out of hand. On major roads where it gets above 55, I think you ought to look at having some sort of barrier."