It is doubtful drivers on a highway give much thought to the rubber streaked cement barriers dividing opposing traffic. Their visual appearance does little to evoke thoughts of the engineers that meticulously designed and crafted a traffic barrier whose versatility and capability would far exceed simply eliminating cars from crossing a line. Named the Jersey Barrier, the modular, steel reinforced concrete barrier was created in 1959, at The Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. Fifty years later the Jersey Barrier has undergone job specific alterations and improvements in design by other engineers. Engineers who’ve taken the original barrier design and created versions that have found use in many places, in many capacities, with one version use as a war memorial in Kirkuk, Iraq, dedicated to U.S. soldiers that made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
The Jersey Barrier was an answer to the New Jersey State Highway’s request for improved measures in traffic safety during the fifties when each new year produced growth in auto ownership, size and speed. First implemented in New Jersey’s Bergen and Passaic counties, it remains the most common barrier employed to this day. It’s unique design (diagram 1) minimizes car damage; if the barrier is swiped, only the tires make contact reducing metal damage; cars traveling faster that strike the barrier with greater force are pushed up and back into their previous lane avoiding oncoming traffic. These abilities have found use in Formula One track design, winding, steeply curved roads, crowd control, protection of military troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Israel, and protection of American citizens that work abroad in dangerous settings such as Qatar.
Not all barriers are Jersey Barriers but all are designed similarly. The Bremer Wall is a 12 feet tall barrier that is employed in all Mideast U.S. military installations. Named after L. Paul Bremer, Head of The Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in 2003, it is one of a number of different barrier designs that have developed since the late fifties. Tall barriers, such as the Alaska Barrier (diagram 3) and the Bremer Wall range from 12 to 20 feet and are oft employed as protection. Other models include the Ontario Tall Wall and F barriers which are slightly larger and improved versions of the Jersey Barrier and constant slope barriers (diagram 2) that allow for repaving without compromising barrier design. The Jersey Barrier and its successors have proven to be of great use in many theatres of the world acting in various fashions usually going unnoticed except perhaps the Bremer Wall which many a soldier has self-professed their thankfulness for the security it provides.
The Jersey Barrier is a product of a different era, an era defined by its adherence to producing quality products made to last. The cars that travel past such barriers today are products of an era whose throw away mentality starkly contrasts that of their predecessors. It is difficult to imagine the production of anything that has a shelf life of fifty plus years anymore. It is doubtful the engineers that created the Jersey Barrier foresaw the path it would take, the many uses it would find throughout the world.