3 Types of Barriers You Will Find on BC Highways


Soaring mountains, rushing rivers and vast tracts of wilderness…

Part of what makes British Columbia so beautiful is its dramatic landscapes. We want you to enjoy your travels through these amazing vistas, but our primary responsibility is to make sure you are safe along the way. One of the ways we do that is by using median and roadside barriers to stop you from leaving the roadway should an incident occur.

There are three types of barriers used on BC Highways:

  1. Concrete – The most common type of barrier used in BC. Concrete barriers are rigid, relatively easy to maintain and very effective. We have installed over 2,400 km of concrete barriers on BC Highways.
  2. Steel – These barriers consist of a metal beam (shaped like a W) which is supported by a series of wooden or steel posts designed to give way slightly under impact. This prevents the vehicle from leaving the roadway and helps to minimize the shock of impact that travels back to the vehicle and those in the car.
  3. Cable – Rope-like cable barriers are also in place along stretches of BC highway. These tensioned cable barriers prevent median cross over crashes and off road crashes. Cable barriers reduce the forces on the vehicle occupants which reduces chance of injury. Also, the open design of the cable system minimizes visual obstruction, reduces accumulation of drifting snow along the roadway, and provides better sight lines on curved roads.

Barrier 1

We use barriers in two places: in the middle of the road (also known as the median) or along the side of the road (we call these roadside barriers).

Median barriers are used to separate opposing traffic on a highway. They are designed to redirect vehicles striking either side of the barrier, keeping motorists safe from head on collisions. A recent example of median barriers can be seen along the Malahat portion of the Trans-Canada Highway 1 on Vancouver Island.

Roadside barriers are used to shield motorists from natural or man-made obstacles on the outside portion of the road. They are designed to stop a vehicle from leaving the road and striking a fixed object or a terrain feature (think mountain) or lack thereof (think river valley) that is less forgiving than striking the barrier itself.

*Bonus barrier*
Have you ever noticed large groups of barrels (which we fill with sand) or accordion style cushions placed strategically along the roadway? Known as crash attenuators or crash cushions, these safety features act as a buffer between errant vehicles and the ends of a barrier system or other fixed object (such as a bridge pier). They absorb the shock of impact should a car hit them, reducing the severity of impact during an incident.

Barrier 2

These are just a few of the ways we are working to keep travellers safe on BC Highways. You might have seen some of our other road safety features like:

We constantly monitor highway safety and improve high risk locations wherever we can. We also follow national design guidelines and practices that incorporate road and roadside safety features like travel lane width, shoulder lane width, and clear zones to minimize the crash severity if a vehicle leaves the roadway. Do you have any questions about this or any other work that the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure does? Let us know in the comments below.

25 comments on “3 Types of Barriers You Will Find on BC Highways”

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  1. Every 4 lane project design starts with a median width providing sufficient shy distance for future installation of median barrier.

    Almost inevitably the extra median width is first to get “value-engineered” out of the design: Because any width reduction is a significant savings cost. And the design calls for ‘future median barrier’.

    A couple of gruesome head-ons later the median barrier is called for. And placement of it turns the left lane into bit of a tunnel because you don’t have the right median width. See Hwy 97 Vernon to Kelowna, for example.

    The Queen would not approve of this short-sightedness on her Highways.

    This practice needs to stop.

    • Hi Kathleen,

      Blue reflectors are often used in municipalities to mark where fire hydrants are located off the side of the road but not visible from the road.

      The South Island District has also been placing them along the island highway where critical highway drainage structures are located.

      The ministry also places small red reflective tabs placed along high snow volume routes, to help plow operators identify areas where they need to be aware of their snow load.

      We hope that this information is helpful – thanks for connecting with us!

  2. Where is my comment about the fatality on highway 97 today? I posted it for the public that you serve to be able to see the lack of Ministry action with median barriers.

    • Hi there Gary – we received your messages but our system will automatically hold them for our review before they are posted to the site. We have shared your concerns with local area staff and will let you know what we hear back.

  3. Your Article says you ‘constantly monitor highway safety and improve high risk locations wherever we can’. You have failed miserably evidenced by the fatality today on Highway 97 north of Summerland. Another unnecessary death on our highways. I have watched this happen time and time again on this highway between Vernon and Penticton. You only seem to react when we reach a certain threshold of fatalities. Last set of barriers installed were after a young 15 year old was killed near Vernon, before that a father of three young children north of the Kelowna airport. It is proven to be the most effective in this type of collision. How can you stand by and watch this carnage every year. Please contact myself at the below email. This must stop!!

    • Hi Gary – thank you for your messages – we have received them – just wanted to confirm that all comments to the site are automatically held for review prior to posting. We have shared your concern directly with local area staff for review. We will let you know what we hear back.

    • Hello Gary – thanks again for your comments.

      Safety is the ministry’s highest priority, and we conduct regular safety performance reviews on all provincial highways to help identify locations for future safety improvements. One such safety treatment is the use of concrete median and roadside barrier (CMB and CRB).

      To determine where barrier is needed, the ministry uses a warrant system that considers factors such as the traffic volume, design speed, degree of highway curvature, the grade of the highway, the embankment height and the proximity to roadside hazards. The ministry relies on this assessment to ensure that areas with the greatest need are addressed first.

      Several sections along the lake Okanagan between Penticton and Peachland have been identified and scheduled for design and cost estimate which will be performed in the next year. Once the design and cost estimates are complete, budgetary constraints and competing priorities, will dictate how much and in what locations new barrier is installed in the future.

      We hope that this helps.

      Thanks again for connecting with us here and sharing your concerns.

  4. Hi can you use a concrete roadside barriers to hold a bank with road above the pitch is 17m x12 m hi = a 1,5 to 1 to hold the toe of slope

    • Hi there Marc. Are you referring to a slope alongside a BC highway? If so, we’d love to connect you directly with a local area manager for review. If this is on private property, you might want to ask a local contractor?

  5. Can we please get median and side barriers for the entire highway from Abbotsford to Surrey? There are so many needless roll-overs because there is a crash and then the vehicle can fly into the ditch. If there were to be a barrier there, the car would not roll over. There are stretches of highway where there is a light pole (eg. going east close to the 176 rd entrance/exit bridge) with no barrier protecting it from the fast moving vehicles zipping by. A small investment in barriers can protect the lives of our loved ones.

    Not to mention, the HOV lane ends by 200 st going east. There is too much traffic these days for 2 lanes to suffice from abby to surrey and vice versa. Please expand the highway to at least 3 lanes, but we need four in actuality, with one being HOV.

    We need extra exits and entrances. There are too many bottlenecks: 200st entrance going east with the HOV lane ending, going uphill, always results in braking. This is extremely unsafe.

    • Hi Steve,

      Thanks for connecting with us here and sharing your concerns. We have shared them forward with the local area manager for review.

    • There’s already plans in the works to extend the HOV lanes from 200th St to a new overpass to be built at 216th St. Might take a decade or more to get 6 lanes all the way to Mt Lehman…

      • What’s the pros and cons of Concrete barriers (Like New jersey) and Guardrail, I mean when should I use this type or this😅

  6. I can think of plenty of locations on the Trans-Canada around Revelstoke where the absence of barriers means that crashes impact into rock faces or down steep banks into forest. I can also remember several fatal accidents in those locations on this most lethal highway in the region of the province with the highest rate of fatal accidents. Then there are all the center line crossing accidents that would be avoided if the highway was 4 laned with median barriers.

    Maybe by the middle of this century we will see some of these locations made safe 🙁

    • Of course it isn’t as simple as just putting barriers on existing highways. In many locations the shoulders are too narrow – putting barriers there just means that a broken down vehicle, or a highway worker’s vehicle, can’t stop without blocking the travel lane. On a highway that sees as much maintenance – particularly winter maintenance at night – this would be a very serious problem. (But if we had four lanes not two…)

    • Hi Nick,

      If you have a concern with a particular location, please let us know and we will send it forward for review by the appropriate district. As you know, the goal of the Trans-Canada four-laning project is to improve highway safety on this important corridor. We continue to work to improve safety on this highway and across the province.

  7. Amazing the things we have to get done to our highways, when following too close would reduce so many crashes on highways.

      • We need to start a massive crackdown on tailgating and raise the penalty for it. Set up cops on the highway just for this tell them to leave their radars off and look just for tailgaters.

        I say $300 ticket first time $500 and 2 month suspension every time after that (though we cant really suspend licenses from an *ahem* certain province with red license plates who are responsible for a lot of the tailgating.

  8. We could do with some roadside barriers along Eastside Road in Penticton-Okanagan Falls as well as along Highway 97 for Penticton-Okanagan Falls-Oliver and probably Penticton-Summerland-Kelowna as there have been instances of foolish drivers exceeding the limit and ending up in lakes or down cliff sides.