An eastbound tractor-trailer struck a LIRR overpass on Montauk Highway...

An eastbound tractor-trailer struck a LIRR overpass on Montauk Highway in Center Moriches earlier this month, one of the many recent bridge strikes that have cause state officials to install new warning signs across Long Island. Credit: Tom Lambui

Thousands of new warning signs have been erected on Long Island state roadways, alerting motorists when they are going the wrong direction and drivers of commercial vehicles that their trucks are too tall to clear low bridges ahead.

With bridge strikes and wrong-way collisions on the rise, state officials announced last week that 700-plus locations across Nassau and Suffolk, including the region's most heavily traveled roadways, have been enhanced with "Wrong Way," "Do Not Enter" and "Low Bridge Clearance” signs.

"Wrong-way drivers and over-height vehicles pose obvious safety hazards that can cause unspeakable tragedies and lead to unnecessary delays and hardships for motorists," Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement. "With these new signs and pavement markings, we are providing hard-to-ignore warnings that will help deter wrong-way drivers and over-height trucks to protect the safety of their fellow motorists."

There were 1,490 bridge-strike crashes on state roads between 2017-2021, with the number of annual incidents increasing from 225 in 2017 to 344 in 2021, the last year statewide numbers were available, according to the State Department of Transportation. Since 2019, there have been 490 Long Island bridge strikes on state roads, department officials said.

      WHAT TO KNOW

  • The State Department of Transportation installed new warning signs at more than 700 locations on Long Island, alerting motorists that they’re entering a highway or parkway ramp from the wrong direction or that their vehicle is too tall to clear low bridges
  • The number of bridge strike crashes has gone up across the state in recent years, while Long Island has seen nearly 500 such accidents since 2019, officials said.
  • Experts said that while the new signage could help reduce accidents, a more holistic approach to roadway management is needed to fully address traffic safety

The department could not provide statistics on wrong-way incursions or accidents on Long Island state roads. 

But in recent years, some of the most serious cases involving wrong-way crashes on Long Island involved drivers who were drunk, high on drugs, or otherwise impaired and caused serious injuries or deaths. 

Corey Hannigan, active transportation program manager for the Manhattan-based Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said while signage can be useful in reducing some accidents, their impact is often limited, particularly if drivers are impaired and ignoring warnings.

"We're glad to see additional focus on safety on our roadways because we're seeing an epidemic of fatal crashes," Hannigan said. "It's been on the rise so we do need to address safety. But the [Federal Highway Administration] recommended approach is bigger than just signage, education and enforcement. It's a more holistic approach to designing a safe system."

Among the new safety enhancements, officials said, are more than 3,600 wrong-way signs on 422 parkway, expressway and highway ramps designed to discourage drivers from entering against the normal flow of traffic. Each location now has a "Do Not Enter" sign followed by four more reading "Wrong Way" — all with red reflective strips to increase visibility. Pavement markings and reflectors have also been installed on ramps to alert wayward motorists.

Most state parkways on Long Island were built in the mid-20th century, with low stone arch bridges and restrictive underpasses intended to accommodate passenger-sized vehicles. 

But during the past eight decades, the roads have sometimes become an accidental route for oversized trucks and commercial vehicles, with their drivers unaware of the height restrictions, leading to bridge strikes that damage infrastructure, sometimes causing serious injuries and backup traffic for miles, state officials said.

For example, one location in the Town of Hempstead on the Meadowbrook Parkway has been struck 57 times since 2017, the DOT said, although it didn't specify the exact location.

In 2018, a bus carrying 38 high school students and five chaperones crashed into a Southern State Parkway overpass between exits 18 and 19 in Lakeview, seriously injuring two people, and causing minor or moderate injuries to more than 40 others, police said. The driver, authorities said, was not aware of the restrictions on buses entering the parkway.

On Aug. 28, 2017, country singer Luke Bryan smacked into the Sunrise Highway overpass on the Wantagh State Parkway in Wantagh with his tractor-trailer hours after he performed at a show at Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater.

And the problem is more than just the sheer number of low overpasses and bridges on Long Island, according to AAA Northeast spokesman Robert Sinclair. 

Many times, he said, the drivers of vehicles involved in the bridge strikes have been led astray and onto roads where their vehicles are prohibited because they're using generic GPS systems as opposed to navigation systems set up specifically for commercial vehicles.

"You can't use the same GPS system car drivers use," Sinclair said. "You've got to get the GPS for commercial vehicles. Either that or you can get into a lot of trouble."

In total, nearly 300 new low-bridge warning signs have been installed on almost all of Long Island's state parkways, which generally prohibit truck, bus and other commercial traffic, officials said. The signs are about 75% larger than previous designs, feature the height of each bridge and come with signpost reflectors.

Additionally, pavement markings warning of “Low Bridge Clearance” have been installed at 17 targeted Long Island locations, including spots on the Northern State, Meadowbrook, Southern State, Bethpage State, Heckscher State and Wantagh State parkways, officials said.

The state also installed 16 over-height vehicle detectors at select ramps where trucks have been frequently known to enter parkways, the department said. The technology triggers an electronic warning sign notifying the truck's driver of the error and alerts the State DOT's regional traffic management center of the potential crash.

"These new signs and pavement markings will help us combat the dangerous instances of wrong-way driving and bridge strikes on Long Island roadways," said State DOT Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez. "However, safety is everyone’s responsibility … We need motorists to obey the rules of the road, drive responsibly and remain alert at all times.”

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