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LIRR trestles' height confounds truckers

LIRR workers begin repair work on the bridge

LIRR workers begin repair work on the bridge at the scene where a cement truck collided with a school bus on Oyster Bay Road in Matinecock. (July 24, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

The northeast corner of Nassau County presents a confusing maze for truck drivers, who have to pick their way carefully under -- or around -- four Long Island Rail Road trestles of varying heights.

One of those was the site of Monday's fatal crash in which a cement truck struck the LIRR bridge that spans Oyster Bay Road on the Locust Valley-village of Matinecock border and collided with a school bus. The bus driver was killed. Four students, a bus attendant and the cement truck driver were injured.

The bridge is one of four LIRR trestles within a 2-mile radius in the villages of Mill Neck and Matinecock with vehicle clearance that ranges from 8 feet, 5 inches to 12 feet, 6 inches.

"Our community is a residential area," said Chad Brisbane, president of the Matinecock Neighborhood Association. "If you're driving a 50,000-pound commercial truck on our local roads, you'd better be aware of bridge heights, posted speeds and weight regulations."

The bridge struck on Monday is posted with signs indicating its clearance is 10 feet, 1 inch. The cement truck was too tall to fit under it. Of the four bridges in that area, the one over West Shore Road in Mill Neck has the highest clearance at 12 feet, 6 inches. It was raised 14 inches in November 2009 when it was rebuilt, records show.

A driver of a car or small truck can travel the most direct route from the center of Bayville's business district to the center of Oyster Bay hamlet -- a distance of 4.2 miles -- by going under the West Shore Road trestle. But if the vehicle is taller than the clearance, the driver must loop through Locust Valley to avoid the trestles -- a 9.2-mile trip.

Gina Esposito, the owner of Casa Mia deli in Oyster Bay, said she regularly drives through the underpass where Monday's accident occurred and has seen truck drivers stop on either side of the bridge to determine if they can fit under.

"Some of my suppliers -- my potato chip guy -- have to ask me for special directions to go all the way around that bridge because they don't know the local roads," Esposito said.

Seven vehicles have struck the Oyster Bay Road bridge since 2005, according to LIRR statistics. The numbers don't distinguish between cars and trucks. Railroad spokesman Sal Arena said seven hits in as many years would not make the trestle "a problem location."

The four LIRR trestles in the area span county roads, and the county is responsible for signage about height restrictions, said Chris Mistron, Nassau's traffic safety coordinator. The Oyster Bay Road bridge has clearance signs posted on the bridge and a short distance in either direction.

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