Clifford Dent is nearly broke because of his breakaway bolt system for highway sign and light posts.His ingenious fastening invention -- able to hold up in hurricane-force winds but snap easily when hit by a vehicle -- hasn’t made any money, but it’s saved several lives."It’s been a blessing and a curse," said Dent, a former Kenai resident who has spent the last 15 years developing and marketing his product.A laborer and businessman by trade, Dent came up with his bolt design while installing a highway sign under contract with the state years ago. In 1987 he made the heat-treated steel bolt with a computer-milled, hourglass-like center designed to fail on impact."It was so simple people didn’t think it would work," said Dent, who had no engineering background, just "Alaskan know-how."He received U.S. and Canadian patents on the design in 1990 and got federal approval for the bolt in 1996, after spending "hundreds of thousands" in government crash tests. Dent then sold his Peninsula Fence Co. and left Alaska to pitch his product to state highway departments throughout the United States. The product currently is being used in about 30 states, including Alaska. But not in quantity for him to earn a decent living, he said."I still got to eat to do this thing," Dent said. "This year was better than last. It all boils down to getting states to try it."Trinity Industries Inc. of Dallas, Texas is making the bolts and is helping Dent market them.Oftentimes, he wonders if coming up with his Dent Breakaway Bolt has been worth it."I made a way better living with my fence company," Dent said. "Plus I got to stay home.""I’ve visited 42 states in the past two years," Dent said in a phone conversation from New Mexico. "I’m tired of driving."Dent said he’s seen crashes in his travels where his system would likely have saved lives."The main thing this does is save lives," Dent said of his product.He’s homesick, but selling the bolts from Alaska isn’t practical. He personally has installed his bolts on highway signs, call boxes and light posts along more roads than he can count.Usually, however, they’re for demonstration purposes. And while highway departments rave about the bolts’ performance, at $15 each most states can’t afford them.In a testimonial letter, the Louisiana highway department said Dent’s bolts held up on several signs during a hurricane that had 120 mph winds.Federal law requires that states use posts that break on impact. Most states use "slip bases" that break when a vehicle strikes the support in the direction of traffic.The problem with slip bases, Dent said, is that when it is struck at an angle other than parallel to the roadway, the base fails to release, causing the vehicle to stop abruptly. Also, if the bolts are not torqued properly, the slip base may not release, making the post a solid object.When fitted with Dent’s bolts, slip bases will break when hit from any direction, or what the government calls "omni-directional."The federal government does not require sign posts to be "omni-directional," but recommends states use the technology, Dent said.Several states in testimonials have reported that Dent’s bolts have worked as intended in crashes, without injury to drivers. The bolts have also allowed the states to reuse posts that were hit since they were knocked clear of the crash site.Dent is buoyed by the potential for making money and saving lives.It’s all about education, Dent says, as few people know such technology exists to save lives along the nation’s highways.He’s pinning his hopes on a federal rule rewrite that would require sign posts to use technology like his.Dent said a New York company has produced a fastening system similar to his, but that company’s breakaway cost four times as much and is more complicated to install.The money-making potential is mindboggling if states would be required to use his bolt or a similar one."There are millions of signs out there that need millions and millions of bolts," Dent said.But more than that, the product will save lives, Dent said."The rewards will be great, if I live that long," Dent said.Some 15 folks from Kenai invested in Dent’s company in the mid-1990s.Travis Steinbeck said he believed the idea was a gold mine when he put money in Dent’s invention.Steinbeck said he believes the product is a good one, but he’s having second thoughts about his investment."I haven’t seen a penny," Steinbeck said. "I would have been better off investing in Yahoo!"Steinbeck would not say how much he invested in the breakaway bolts."It was a lot," he said. Mark Hodgins, an investor and former Alaska lawmaker now living in Oregon, said he knew the risk would be great putting money toward the idea."Cliff made a better mousetrap," Hodgins said.But making highways safer is not a priority with states, he said. If it were, "We would have an avalanche of orders. Nevada, alone, needs 20 million bolts.""We have a practical solution, but not to the political problem," Hodgins said."Every dollar they would have to spend on the bolts, that’s a dollar less for education or a school nurse or something. Nobody knows that better than me," a Republican representative for Kenai during the 1998-1999 legislative sessions.Rodney Boyd, a spokesman with Trinity Enterprises, agreed that funding is a problem."The problem is purely economic, but that doesn’t stop us from trying," Boyd said."No other system on the market matches the performance of Cliff’s bolt, or comes close to it in cost," Boyd said.Boyd said several thousand of the bolts have been made so far.