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Andrew Cuomo seeks tougher penalties for bridge strikes by oversized vehicles

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks to the media

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks to the media after delivering remarks at the "No Hate In Our State" security grant conference Thursday at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. Credit: Charles Eckert

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday proposed increased penalties for driving oversized and overweight vehicles that result in bridge strikes that have snarled traffic and damaged roadways on Long Island and in other areas.

A first offense for driving a vehicle exceeding height restrictions on a highway could draw a fine of up to $5,000 and a jail sentence of up to 30 days. A second offense could result in a $7,500 fine and 60 days in jail, according to the proposal.

Current penalties, based on the weight of vehicles, are as low as a fine of $250 and 15 days in jail.

Exceeding the vehicle weight limit of 26,000 pounds, or the lower standards for specific highways, could result in suspension of the owner’s vehicle registration for a year.

There are are 150 bridge strikes a year in New York, costing the state $30 million, Cuomo said.

“Bridge strikes, at best, create unacceptable and costly traffic problems with real economic consequences and, at worst, are a public safety hazard that puts the lives of motorists and passengers alike at risk,” Cuomo said.

State Department of Transportation reports have shown Nassau and Suffolk counties trailed only the Westchester-Rockland region in terms of the number of bridge strikes. But DOT said Long Island accounted for the most multiple strikes to the same bridges.

In 2018, the state completed a $4.3 million installation of eight detectors that alert drivers they are operating vehicles too high or too heavy for the highway. There are now 16 on Long Island.

Cuomo is proposing the tougher penalties in his budget proposal to the State Legislature. A negotiated budget deal is due by April 1.

In April in Center Moriches, an oversized vehicle struck a Long Island Rail Road bridge overpass, shutting down traffic in both directions on Montauk Highway. Because of the crash, trains also operated more slowly through the area. The driver of the truck had minor injuries.

In 2018, three branches of the LIRR were disrupted after a truck struck a railroad bridge on Nassau Boulevard in Garden City. Trains were delayed from 10 minutes to two hours because of the crash.

“When unauthorized vehicles violate height and weight restrictions, they not only contribute to the serious traffic problems that Long Islanders experience every day — they put lives at risk,” said Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown).

“Imposing stricter penalties will better convey the seriousness of these violations, and help prevent future accidents from occurring,” Thomas said.

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