Experts from the State Police, state transportation department, AAA New York and representatives from the trucking industry attended a hearing of the New York State Senate Transportation Committee in Farmingdale Thursday, called after Newsday last month revealed the frequency and cost of trucks hitting roadway overpasses.
State Sens. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick) and Jack Martins (R-Mineola), together with Assemb. David McDonough (R-Merrick), voiced their support for installing the relatively low-cost "headache" bars despite potential liability concerns one expert said had been expressed by the state transportation legal department.
"There are many things that municipalities do that could have a potential liability factor but the overriding room for improvement outweighs that," said Fuschillo, committee chairman.
Late Thursday, a spokeswoman for State DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald said the commissioner has directed staff to do a pilot study at one location on Long Island -- still to be determined -- of an "overheight vehicle" warning arm.
The concept is to have an arm at the same height as the low bridge that is as forgiving as possible, but still provides a physical reminder to a trucker who might try to pass under it. The spokeswoman said work was still going on to determine the exact spot for the trial and to choose the device but it is expected it could be in place by year's end.
In addition, new pavement markings -- "No Trucks/Low Bridge" or "Low Bridge Ahead" -- will be put on roadways approaching parkway onramps at 10 locations by year's end: four of them entrances to the Northern State Parkway and six entrances to the Southern State.
A truck driver who winds up on a parkway can be fined as little as $150, the panel was told. Fuschillo said the committee would investigate increasing fines and penalties, but prevention is the goal and the committee recognized truckers' presence on parkways was usually unintentional.
State Police Sgt. Ira Promisel, who heads a bridge strike mitigation task force, told the panel recent data obtained by state troopers showed offending drivers were "overwhelmingly" independent contractors from out of state on their first or second trip to New York and spoke English. Many had been directed onto the parkways by a basic GPS unit not sensitive to truck heights.
About 200 bridge hits have occurred statewide each year since 2005, according to an analysis of state Department of Transportation figures. In 2010 and 2011, about a quarter of them happened on Long Island.
On Wednesday, a truck that struck an overpass in Westchester caused traffic jams for almost six hours.