(Editor's Note: This is the 11th in a two-week series exploring existing infrastructure and future needs in the Cleveland and Bradley County community.)
They call it the “can-opener bridge.”
Long known for peeling back the tops of trucks too tall to pass beneath it, the 11-foot-8 inch, Norfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass in Durham, N.C., has become an internet star after several videos were posted online showing the unfortunate results that occur when truck drivers underestimate the bridge’s height.
It even has its own webpage, 11foot8.com, which documents the results of those poor decisions, many of which turn trucks into scrap metal.
The webpage lists a warning: “The train trestle prominently featured in all the videos … has earned a reputation for its unrelenting enforcement of the laws of physics. If your vehicle is taller than 11 feet, 8 inches, and you challenge this bridge, you might find footage of your experience on this website.”
There’s lots of video footage posted too, with some dating back to 2008. There are also photos of accidents from the 1960s and 1950s.
But, according to the Huffington Post, the problem will cease when the 79-year-old bridge’s height will be raised eight inches. The construction project began in late October.
The bridge is owned by North Carolina Railroad Company and carries trains owned by Norfolk Southern, as well as other railroads.
Durham's ABC11.com reported last month that workers are “using jacks to lift the steel beams that carry the tracks over the street, then sliding new plates between the beams and concrete piers.”
In addition, the news site explained that “workers are also creating a change in grade along the tracks on both sides of the bridge.”
Cleveland has its own can-opener bridge, which has its own notorious record of preventing trucks, and other high-profile vehicles, from passing underneath.
While the Inman Street bridge’s owner — Norfolk Southern — currently has no plans to alter the height of the 10-feet, 10-inch, 46-year-old bridge, city officials have been left scratching their heads regarding a solution to the problem.
It was one of several questions that confronted the Cleveland City Council last month as its members discussed several recent accidents involving oversized trucks that have crashed into the Inman Street railroad bridge/underpass.
Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks proposed the city find a solution to reduce the accidents, which have occurred twice just this month.
Currently, warning signs are posted on the bridge, one of which has flashing lights.
Brooks suggested constructing an overhead street sign one block away from both sides of the underpass that would act as a failsafe measure to prevent further accidents.
“If a truck hits the sign one block ahead of the bridge, the drivers will stop before they hit it,” Brooks said. “It would be a warning."
The mayor also suggested hanging a multi-chain-like apparatus from an overhead pole that trucks would strike prior to approaching the underpass.
“It would be a very loud warning signal to a truck,” Brooks said, adding that trucks have been crashing into the bridge ever since he moved to Cleveland 33 years ago to attend Lee College, now Lee University.
City Manager Joe Fivas said the city will be working with the state, as well as Norfolk Southern, to develop a solution.
“We'll coordinate with them and see if they have any ideas, and we’ll also carry the mayor's and council’s message to them,” Fivas said.
Councilman Ken Webb strongly encouraged the city to recoup costs incurred when warning signs are damaged by trucks that crash into the bridge.
Fellow Councilman Tom Cassada said he was unsure about installing a chain-link warning device.
“I’m not sure what it would look like,” he said. "I think that’s the last thing I would want to see as I’m coming into downtown.”
Vice Mayor Avery Johnson cautioned his fellow council members to explore all solutions before attempting to recover sign-damage costs, suggesting the current signage may not be adequate to hold drivers wholly responsible for the accidents.
“I'm all for fixing the problem before we try to recover any costs because we have to verify the responsibility before putting something out there,” he said.
However, a group of whiz kids from North Lee Elementary School may have come up with a solution via Legos, lasers and a little ingenuity.
Last week, the third and fourth grade students presented their findings to Brooks via Skype, who then invited them to appear before the city council’s 1 p.m. work session on Monday.
Their teacher, Jennifer Balding, told the Cleveland Daily Banner the students will also present their plan during the Chattanooga-North Georgia First Lego League Tournament on Saturday, Nov. 23.
Brooks' invitation was extended after student Cara Minutolo did a little politicking after the presentation.
“So, I would like to know if we were to show the city council our solution, how would we get that done?" she asked.
The mayor responded with an invitation.
“I'm so happy that you asked," Brooks said. “I would love for you to bring your solutions to the 1 p.m. session. We meet again on Nov. 18, and you're welcome to join us.”
(An expanded version of this article will be published in Tuesday's print edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner.)
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