On Jan. 6, 1992, eight young men from the Sterling-Rock Falls area were killed when the van they were riding in went off the roadway and crashed into a concrete bridge abutment on Interstate 88.
This week, a project to improve safety around such bridge abutments was announced by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Better late than never.
On that tragic winter day in 1992, the men, whose ages ranged from 19 to 28, were returning home from working a shift at Iowa Beef Processors in Joslin. The driver apparently fell asleep, police said at the time.
Those killed that day were Juan M. Gonzalez, Roberto Arellano, Jose Flores, Humberto Chino, Alejandro Gomez, Humberto Soriano, Juan Salazar and Roberto Castillo, according to a 1992 Daily Gazette story.
The bridge abutment their van struck near Lyndon, about 91/2 miles west of Rock Falls, was not protected by barricades.
The current project entails the installation of yellow barrels filled with a sand-like mixture, called crash attenuators, near bridge abutments along I-88 in Whiteside County, according to John Wegmeyer, a Dixon IDOT highway engineer.
The barrels are designed to cushion the impact, should a driver lose control and go careening toward the abutment.
“When someone hits one of the center piers, it tends to be a fatal accident. Now, people have a better chance of surviving,” Wegmeyer said.
Safety improvements on sign truss foundations also are planned.
The value of this safety project should not be underestimated. Vehicles have more safety features than they did 20 years ago. The upcoming installation of those bunched barrels should further increase interstate safety.
We hope that means fewer lives will be lost in the future, and fewer communities will have to face the devastating heartbreak felt by Sterling and Rock Falls in 1992.