FAQ

Ryder truck 2/13/09

Why is the bridge so low?

This train trestle is about 70 years old. At the time when it was built, there were no standards for minimum clearance..

How often do trucks crash into the bridge?

Between 2008 and 2019, on average, a truck got visibly damaged a little more than once a month at the bridge (150 crashes in 140 months). However, every day I see trucks that trip the overheight warning lights, stop and turn into the side street. So the vast majority of drivers heed the warnings.

Why don’t they fix it?

Depends on who “they” are and on what “fix” means.

  • The North Carolina Railroad Company owns the train trestle, and their concern is primarily with keeping the trains running and keeping them running safely. So their concern is mainly with reducing the impact of the truck crashes on the actual structure of the train trestle. As far as they are concerned, they solved that problem by installing the crash beam.
    UPDATE: On Oct 29, 2019, the bridge was raised by 8 inches to match the grade of the Duke St. level crossing. This change improves the overall grade of the track and may improve traffic safety due to the additional clearance over the road. The engineers at the site explained that raising the grade any further is not feasible, because that would introduce a ” hump” at the Duke St. level crossing, which would introduce a risk of vehicles with low road clearance bottoming out at that crossing.
  • The city of Durham has installed “low clearance” signs on each of the 3 blocks leading up to the trestle (Gregson is a one-way road). There is a sensor that triggers an LED blackout warning sign when In overheight vehicle approaches the trestle (more info below). Several blocks ahead of the trestle the speed limit is 25 MPH. The folks from the city planning department said that they made an effort to prevent accidents.
  • The North Carolina Dept. of Transportation maintains the road, but not the signage. I suspect they have much bigger problems to deal with statewide than this bridge.
MUTCD W12 low clearance sign

Is the clearance signage accurate?

The clearance signage displays  a maximum safe clearance – and yes, in that sense it is accurate. The actual clearance of the crash beam right in front of the trestle is 11 feet 10.8 inches, which gives it a 2.8 inch safety margin. The MUTCD allows for a maximum of 3 inches difference between the signage and the actual clearance.

UPDATE: As of Nov. 2019, the signage has been updated to indicate the new clearance of 12 feet and 4 inches (3.76 meters).

Metric, please!

Would this situation be better if the signage were metric? Well … take a look at his website: 2m40.com (Warning: French. Metric)

For the convenience of our metric-only audience, here are the measurements we’re talking about in Meters:

  • 11foot8 (11 feet 8 inches) = 3.556 meters
  • 11 feet 10.8 inches = 3.627 meters
  • Safety margin: 7.1 cm (at the crest of the road)
  • NEW 12 feet 4 inches = 3.76 meters

Can’t the road be lowered?

That would be prohibitively expensive because a sewer main runs just a few feet below the road bed. That sewer main also dates back about a hundred years and, again, at the time there were no real standards for minimum clearance for railroad underpasses.

Can’t the bridge be raised?

Here, too, the question is who would want to pay the millions of dollars to raise the tracks a couple of feet? To accomplish this, the grade of the tracks would have to changed on both sides of the trestle, probably for several miles. That would require rebuilding all railroad bridges in Durham. And NS would have to shut down this busy track for months. I don’t think they are interested in that idea.

UPDATE Nov. 2019: The bridge has been raised by 8 inches!

The NC Railroad Company in October 2019 raised the bridge by 8 inches to the grade of the Duke St. crossing. As it turned out, there was an 8 inch grade difference between the Duke St crossing and the Gregson St. bridge, so they were able to lift the bridge and level the grade. Check out the video.

This also confirms that the railroad company can’t raise the bridge enough to eliminate the problem, which would be a height that would allow a 13’6″ (4.11 meters) vehicle to pass under it, so at least another 15 – 16 inches (40 cm) above the grade of the Duke St. crossing.

Is the signage adequate?

The signage is good, and the vast majority of truck drivers notice the problem and avoid the bridge. Large signs alert driver to the low clearance several blocks before the bridge. Half a block before the trestle, a sensor detects overheight vehicles and triggers an LED blackout warning sign that was installed in May 2016. That same sensor also triggers a red-light phase at the traffic light directly in front of the trestle (installed in March 2016), so the driver has 50 seconds to read the warning sign next to the red traffic light and consider their next move.

Should there be more signage?

It’s hard to see how more “low-clearance” signs will significantly improve the situation.

Could they install a low-clearance bar?

A low clearance bar is a bar suspended by chains ahead of the bridge. Overheight vehicles hit that bar first and the noise alerts the driver to to the problem. I understand that this approach has been successful in other places, but it’s not practical here. There are many overheight trucks that have to be able to drive right up to the bridge and turn onto Peabody St. in order to deliver supplies to several restaurants. Making Peabody St inaccessible from Gregson St would make the restaurant owners and the delivery drivers very unhappy.

Are the drivers stupid?

No idea. They certainly seem distracted and the rental truck drivers are also probably inexperienced.

Will insurance cover the damages?

Most truck rental insurance policies specifically exclude overhead damage from coverage. However, a good auto insurance or liability insurance might pick up the tab. Check with your agent. Or even better – don’t hit the bridge!

What is the location of the 11foot8 bridge?

201 Gregson St in Durham, NC (intersection with Peabody St) Link to Google maps

Any other questions?

If you have any truck-crash-related questions that are not covered here, post them below.

99 Comments

        • I work for NCDOT and we check the clearance every 2 years. Last check (December 2016) the clearance was 11′-10″ +change in the center of the roadway. The posted 11′-8″ is sufficient.

      • It is irresponsible because they have known safety issue they are not addressing. Instead they are videotaping it for enjoyment. If this were an OSHA type of situation those responsible for the street and the bridge would be held criminally negligent for not taking action to prevent recurrence. If a bystander walking near that bridge gets injured their court case is made for them and the city and RR will pay them forever!

        It is completely irresponsible to have 134 accidents occur and not correct the issue. The RR and the city have the money and the means to address this. Additionally signs and lights are not the only countermeasures that can be employed in this instance.

        • You have a lot of inaccuracies and misrepresentations in this post. You fail to acknowledge the extreme costs that would be incurred to eliminate this problem. You’re also completely absolving the drivers involved in preventing these problems in the first place. I guess that you’ll next be advocating wrapping all utility poles in bubble wrap to prevent injuries to inattentive drivers.

    • sonofbaconator

      Honestly puzzled, you should shut your mouth. If you would lose 100 lbs and didn’t spill onto your fellow Americans every time you sat in the middle seat on Delta, that would be more constructive than running your mouth on the internet. There are warning signs everywhere as well as flashing lights. The city has even installed a height sensor in recent years. It’s the driver’s fault. Every. Time. Flat. Out. The city can’t help it if there are idiot drivers with BMIs higher than their IQs driving through 5 warning signs. Individual mandate. All. Day.

    • The bridge is over 100 years old. How is the city responsible? Low clearance bridges are everywhere. This is not the only one that gets hit. Most drivers pay attention to the signage. The one’s that don’t pay attention, well…there you go.

    • I was thinking this, glad I wasn’t alone. Either railroad crossing style lights and arms or paid parking area style arm. I noticed the traffic light and new sign were installed after your comment. If the lights turn red with the sign (only with the sign?), maybe the arms activate and lower until the truck turns to avoid the bridge. Maybe the sign states ALL TRUCKS MUST TURN instead to avoid the ‘is it me’ confusion.

    • Something more interactive because some dont realoze lighys or signs arent for them? I need to try this: sorry officer, I didnt know the red light was for me. I also wasnt aware the road was for me to use, thats why I was driving down the sidewalk.

      Personal responsibility! First thing: ignorance of the law is no excuse. It is the drivers responsibility to know their vehicle: height, weight, stopping distance, number of legal passengers, whether bulbs are out, if tires are flat or even missing. Should the government, as many have said, inspect your vehicle everytime you get in it to drive it? Should government make sure your phone is charged before leaving the house? Should the government make sure youre not speeding? Should governemnt make sure youre not smoking weed or drinking too much while on your couch? When do you get freewill if you want the government to make sure you wiped well enough after pooping?

      Most parking garages: 6’6″. My vehicle, 6’8″. I park at the curb or in a lot. Would it be the governments fault or my fault if I parked in a spot that was too short for my vehicle and I hit the car parked in the next spot? According to some here, it would not be mine…

    • Read the FAQ’s. There are trucks that service businesses in the area that have to turn just before reaching the bridge. Those trucks would probably all be damaged by your ‘genius’ idea.

  1. Just saw this interesting solution to problems like this:

    http://imgur.com/gallery/0e51E4b

  2. Why don’t they just dig the road lower to avoid the crashes?? There is a bridge in Manitoba, Canada that had the same problem and the dug down to fix it. The city could also put a low hanging horizontal pipe at 11′ 8″ before the bridge so they hit those first… But then we would not have these great videos!

  3. What about hanging some chains from the new overhead pole the new sign is on, just before the crash beam? – https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4021/5169788088_ba76bc93f8_b.jpg

    And then maybe a speed bump just before the intersection to slow people down a little. Those would both be cheap and not really cause anyone else harm.

  4. Do you have statistics anywhere? How many trucks hit the bridge on, say, a monthly basis?

    I’m interested in whether the different warning approaches made any difference at all.

  5. “Overhight, must turn” doesn’t immediately alarm me, since English is not my first language. A sign saying STOP!!! would alert more people. And what about an audible warning signal? Doesn’t cost a fortune, but would help a bit probably.
    Interesting to find out how many of the drivers are not american. For me (European) the signs are not familiar, so I could imagine this could also be a factor in these accidents.

    • Playing devil’s advocate for a minute: a stop sign would make everyone stop, not just trucks. And then they’d all be looking at each trying to figure out why, give up, and just drive through anyway. Never under-estimate the stupidity of people

  6. I found the 11Foot8 clips on You Tube among many other of bad driving.

    It’s interesting to know the history of this bridge, especially why the clearance can’t be increased by easy means.

    Have you tried making a list of other low bridges which have similar troubles with being hit?

    There is one near me which gets hit occasionally.

  7. What’s the height of a city bus? Maybe lower the steel beam so that it’s high enough for a bus to get under, but “obviously” too low for a truck. Not that it wouldn’t stop people trying to drive under it, but comparing crashes #118 and #119 its apparent that some trucks barely get under it and some fail miserably. If you made it more apparent that everyone would fail … ?

  8. What video camera and microphone do you use? The clarity is amazing!

  9. Wish you had a camera on the other side to catch the look on their faces when they hit.

  10. Can you create an videocam here and also send out alerts whenever an overheight truck stops at the light?

  11. I drive a truck. I have not yet been to Durham, NC. But when and if that day comes, what street is best to take other than Gregson? Asking for a friend.

  12. I’d love to see a third view of the driver’s face as they hit. Are there any plans to place a camera on the other side of the bridge, capturing the surprise on their faces?

  13. I could watch this action all day. It’s like the Coliseum – I love it! Juan en muy guapo!

  14. Hi! New here but I have been sitting and smiling over all the short films on Youtube. As an European I´m not so accustomed with feet and inches, what´s the normal free height of bridges like this one in the US, I mean a normal bridge.

  15. This bridge could use some human-centered design help. The problem isn’t the lack of signage, it’s the overload. The ‘last effort’ sign is so easily ignored, there’s no wonder why people keep ignoring it. If I approached this intersection, I would never read any of the height signs or warnings. The height signs for this bridge look identical to every sign that reads . Here’s how it’s properly done: https://weather.com/science/video/laser-projected-stop-sign-seeks-to-prevent-truck-accidents

  16. Has anyone considered installing a set of boomgates before the bridge?

  17. Hey dude, I really appreciate that you keep a log about these hit-bridge accidents!

    I am a researcher who works at PA and trying to change the bridge maintenance strategy of PennDOT. I am very interested in the hit-bridge problem. I hope to change PennDOT’s workflow to let them fix low under-clearance bridges to avoid such accidents. But records of these cases are hard to collect. As you noticed, many drivers just left after they hit the bridge. So there is no record left.

    I am really looking forward to finding any records about hit-bridge accidents in PA. If you know, please do let me know.

  18. There have been many correct comments on here, but at some point doesn’t someone have to say enough is enough (as far as damages to either the trucks or bridge)? I have no idea if this would work, but has anyone considered raising the ground around the bridge so that the entire intersection is higher. Then the bridge becomes a crossing. Yes this would cost money too, but maybe “taxes” to the right individuals (companies) OR some sort of insurance subsidy could help cover this cost. Yes all of these drivers were stupid for not knowing their truck height AND ignoring the existing warnings. Oh, one more thing, maybe some electronics genius can invent something that goes into all trucks that ALSO sound a LOUD alarm inside the truck when approaching any low pass.
    Don’t we have GPS now? Just a thought.

    • Are you volunteering to pay for this very expensive project? Most high-profile vehicles heed the warnings and turn. Those that don’t pay the price for their ignorance.

  19. Enjoying your site, thanks for the entertainment.
    My husband and I were curious how many of the rental trucks get damaged per year. Wondering if the local agencies specifically warn people away from the area? Hoping you have answers, otherwise he wants to call them direct. Lol

    Keep up the great work and editing.

    PS hoping for a camera placed for drivers reaction.

  20. reinieraarnink

    Hey. Well here in my opinion on how this problem can be solved. I only see three solutions with good potential here.

    – Lower the road somewhere else nearby if the sewers are a problem.
    – Find ways to make the ‘install a low-clearance bar’ practically work.
    – Thirdly, navigation systems. Another thing to prevent these crashes is to embed this in the navigation systems of these trucks and talk to the truck driving companies. This should for instance be reported to Google Maps, Waze, Maps, TomTom. Companies renting trucks could for example make the driver more aware of such situations; they could make the navigation systems make a loud sound when coming nearby such situation. It is a fact that there are not many places like this. There perhaps some places deserve extra attention of the driver, by making a navigation system make loud sounds.

  21. You just got picked up by Canadian state radio, eh?

    https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/north-carolina-can-opener-bridge-to-be-raised-after-years-of-shearing-tops-off-trucks-1.5336098

    They’re claiming that they’ll try to raise the bridge 8″ (20cm) – so do you open 12foot4 com as the new version of this site? That’s still lower than the bridge that took out the double-decker Megabus on the Onondaga Lake Parkway near Syracuse on 11 Sep 2010 by more than a foot.

  22. Valnando4Ever

    Hi – I live in Greensboro, NC and we have a similar bridge on my street. Trucks get stuck under it A LOT and I have some really nice EXTREMELY SHARP shards of metal that have peeled off the top of various trucks.

    Do you accept submissions from other bridges?

    Also – does the bridge in Durham have coal trains going over it? Ours does!!!!

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