Low Bridge Creates Expensive Headache for Trucks, City

March 5, 2018
Charging funnels on front-discharge mixers sit too high for this truck to make it under this 12 foot 7 inch railroad overpass

A low bridge on a well-traveled street can mean a high-cost incident. There’s one in Delaware, Ohio, that has persistently caught unwary truck drivers who’ve hit it—14 times since 2015, according to a city spokesman. Though tall van-type tractor-trailers and straight trucks are the usual victims—and culprits—at least one concrete mixer truck has been caught by the span.

Above: Charging funnels on front-discharge mixers sit high–too high for this truck to make it under the 12 foot, 7-inch railroad overpass on West Central Avenue, which is State Route 37, in Delaware, Ohio. Most errant drivers are piloting tall van-type semis and straight trucks.

The CSX railroad bridge on West Central Avenue stands 12 feet, 7 inches above the pavement. The overpass was built many years ago, when trucks weren’t as large as now. It’s high enough for most dump and mixer trucks, but the charging funnels on forward-discharge mixers sit higher and can be crushed by the span.

Even if a driver sees the low overpass and stops short of it, he still has to get himself and his rig out of the situation. Central Avenue is an old, mostly two-lane street with few places where a truck can maneuver.  Because of heavy traffic, especially during rush hours, police have to respond and direct traffic.

Central Avenue is State Route 37, so it’s understandable why a trucker from out of town would blunder onto it. However, there 10 warning signs in either direction from the bridge, some with flashing yellow lights, according to Lee Yoakum, the city’s spokesman. And there’s a truck route for SR 37 that avoids the overpass. Yet truck drivers still end up on Central and encounter the bridge. 

“Anecdotal information seems to indicate that drivers are inexperienced or are distracted, for whatever reason, maybe because of all the things that are inside a modern truck,” he said.  “Maybe they’re using the wrong kind of GPS” device, one written for motorists who aren’t concerned with overhead restrictions. 

Numerous warning signs west and east of the span warn drivers. “When a truck hits the bridge, the cost to the city is $2,000 to $5,000 for cleanup, extra police, and so on,” Yoakum continued. Some of that is recovered because the fine for striking the bridge is $1,000. The fine for getting police help to turn around is $750. Damage to a truck or trailer is another matter.

Folks not familiar with construction costs have suggested an obvious solution: Raising the bridge or lowering the pavement. 

“Lowering the road requires improvements to the pavement and nearby intersections to account for the (resulting) heavier truck volume, with estimated cost of $2 million to $3 million, and a construction time of six or more months and major detours,” Yoakum said.

“Raising the bridge would require even greater money—that the City does not have available—and cooperation from the railroad on altering the track grade and shutting down the line for construction. Neither option is currently being considered by City Council.”

The city has looked at tattle tales, which are hanging devices that would strike the leading edge of a truck to warn the driver that he’s about to hit something much harder. But for various reasons, city council members didn’t like that idea, he related.

Instead, Delaware will install a laser-activated warning system.

“Vehicles too tall will trip a laser beam, triggering a flashing message that will warn drivers to stop immediately, and a phone number for assistance getting turned around,” Yoakum said.

Vendor bids last year each came in at more than $500,000. The city is getting financial and acquisition help from Ohio’s Department of Transportation that would cut the city’s cost to about $215,000, the amount it had obtained from a state safety fund for the project.