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Editorial: Quick fixes for truck-overpass problem

A tractor trailer stuck under a bridge on

A tractor trailer stuck under a bridge on the Southern State Parkway at Exit 30N in North Massapequa slowed traffic dramatically in the eastbound lanes. ( March 16, 2012) Credit: Paul Mazza

How many times have you been stuck in traffic after a truck hit a low bridge or an overpass? Such accidents happen about 200 times a year in New York State, mostly in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties, because of parkways that were not designed for large commercial vehicles, according to a Newsday special report.

Realistically, we can't afford to raise the many low-clearance overpasses on state parkways. But why can't we do something about the few clueless drivers who ignore the low-height signs?

Unfortunately, that would require decisive action, initiative and creativity from the state's calcified Department of Transportation, where administrators, no matter which governor they serve, seem overmatched by the bureaucracy's engineers.

In 2009, Gov. David A. Paterson asked the Bridge Strike Mitigation Task Force for recomendations. Supposedly, a report by the DOT-led task force is due this year -- that's THREE years later. Meanwhile, millions are being spent on structural repairs and signs, not to mention the economic and safety consequences of traffic delays and cargo spilled on the roads. Fortunately, no truck carrying hazardous cargo, such as chemicals or explosives, has caused a public health crisis by hitting a bridge.

In 2009, DOT said 81 percent of strikes by commercial vehicles were caused by global-positioning devices routing drivers to restricted roadways. Since then a lot more drivers are using GPS guidance instead of their own eyes. While "enhanced" GPS devices are programmed for bridge height, this feature is an added expense, and the industry is fighting implementation.

So here are a few suggestions that didn't take THREE years of study. Pass a law to allow confiscation of a truck after it causes a particularly egregious incident, and boost those minimal fines to punitive sums. Soon the higher- quality GPS software will look cheaper. Meanwhile, why not install physical barriers, like those at mall parking garages, at troublesome entrance ramps?

This isn't that hard.


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