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Schumer urges GPS standards, federal probe of bridge strikes

Police investigate the site of a tractor-trailer accident

Police investigate the site of a tractor-trailer accident that closed northbound lanes of the Hutchinson River Parkway for three hours. (Jan. 23, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

Standing on a Scarsdale overpass hit by wayward trucks 90 times over 17 years, Sen. Charles Schumer Monday called for a federal investigation into the bridge strikes in Westchester and around New York and proposed new national standards for GPS devices, which have been blamed for many of the collisions.

"These accidents are frequent, costly, dangerous and entirely avoidable," Schumer said in prepared remarks. "If we have the technology to send a truck to Mars, we have the technology to prevent trucks from crashing into bridges here in Westchester."

Schumer called on the Department of Transportation to launch an investigation into the bridge strikes, which are marked by their stunning regularity in the Hudson Valley and Westchester County in particular. From 2008-2011, Westchester County police recorded, on average, roughly one bridge strike a week and 2012 is on pace to keep the record intact, with 43 strikes as of Sept. 14.

Schumer cited a 2009 study that linked misused GPS devices to 80 percent of bridge strikes. The problem arises when commercial truck drivers use global-positioning system devices made for passenger vehicles, say transportation officials and law enforcement officers. Those devices can lead drivers of tractor-trailer rigs onto limited-access highways like the Hutchinson River Parkway. The low overpasses on such roads were not built to accommodate big rigs, whose height is typically 13 feet 6 inches. Special GPS devices for truckers, meanwhile, are designed to keep 18-wheelers clear of such highways.

A recent study by Newsday based on data from the state Transportation Department showed that bridges over the Hutchinson River Parkway have the highest number of truck strikes in the Hudson Valley.

One bridge alone, carrying state Route 120A (King Street) over the limited-access highway at Rye Brook, registered 95 truck hits from 1993 to mid-2010, the most of any span in the Hudson Valley. Schumer said trucks have collided with bridges more than 850 times over the past 20 years. In 2010-2011, there were 94 strikes on Long Island and 110 in New York City, according to Schumer.

Commercial truck traffic also is prohibited on the Saw Mill River Parkway and the Northern State and Southern State parkways on Long Island.

Kendra Adams, executive director of the New York State Motor Truck Association, a trade group, said the misuse of GPS devices is only part of the problem.

"It's more of a driver-education issue," she said, citing inadequate signage and the unfamiliarity of out-of-state truckers with New York's limited-access highways as other important elements.

Adams sits on a state task force on the bridge-strike issue. The task force is expected to render recommendations in late 2012 or early 2013.

The NYSMTA will wait to see the details of Schumer's GPS proposal before taking a position, she said.

In a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calling for an investigation, Schumer said trucks strike bridges about 200 times per year in New York State, according to the state Transportation Department, and about a quarter of those incidents occur in Nassau, Suffolk or Westchester counties.

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