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You asked, we answered: Why do trucks keep hitting that Tonawanda bridge?

City of Tonawanda to truck drivers: Stay off Young Street.

After at least the 57th time a tractor-trailer has crashed into the Young Street CSX railroad bridge since 2000 – with three crashes in just the last two weeks – Mayor Rick Davis decided enough is enough.

Thursday morning, Davis issued an executive order prohibiting truck traffic on Young Street between the Fremont Street Bridge and the Vietnam Veterans Highway on/off ramp.

The order reads: “The length of term of the Executive Order is indefinitely. I have asked our Police Department to step up Patrols in the area and have zero tolerance ticketing policy."

City workers were busy Thursday making new signs to warn truck drivers that they need to find another route.

"Something simple like: No trucks," said Police Capt. Fredric Foels, who has meticulously kept track of the crashes between the trucks and the bridge since 2000.

They're expected to be posted in the next week to 10 days.

Staff News Reporter Maki Becker interviewed Foels about the perpetual problem plaguing the Young Street Bridge.

Digital engagement editor Qina Liu helped compile questions from social media.

Tonawanda Police Capt. Fredric Foels stands with the CSX railway bridge on Young Street in Tonawanda in 2017. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

From Heidi Chase: Honestly how safe is that train bridge with 57 tractor-trailers hitting it all the time?

Foels: Fear not, the bridge is perfectly safe. "That thing is built like Fort Knox," Foels said. It's made of reinforced steel – and the trailers are made of aluminum. "That's why they fold like an accordion," he said.

Every time there's a truck hits the bridge, CSX officials come to the scene to check it. "They just shake their head and say: 'Not even a scratch,' " he said.

From Daniel Shalik: Why don’t they just make the bridge higher?

Foels: That's apparently a complicated and very expensive endeavor. The problem? You can't just elevate the portion of the bridge. "You'd have to start back a mile on each side to gradually elevate up to a proper height," Foels said.

The same issue would arise by lowering the street. The additional challenges there would include dealing with underground utilities as well as the side street that leads up to Young Street right by the bridge.

And if there's a heavy rain?

"You wouldn't want that thing to turn into a bathtub," he said.

From Wendy Hillman: Is there no sign?

Becker: There are many signs up and down Young Street leading to the bridge.

Numerous signs lead up to the bridge to try to warn truck drivers about the bridge, including one that plainly reads: "WARNING LOW BRIDGE AHEAD."

There are bright yellow ones that denote the height. There are also diamond-shaped signs with big, black arrows, one pointed up, the other down. Some versions have two extra orange diamonds, like Mickey Mouse ears, on either side.

However, CSX won't let the city put any on the actual bridge. The city consulted with the state Department of Transportation which determined there was more than adequate signage to warn drivers.

A truck driver got his tractor-trailer stuck under the Young Street CSX bridge in the City of Tonawanda on Feb. 28, 2019. (Photo courtesy of the City of Tonawanda Police Department)

From Les Trent: Is it possible the clearance height is wrong on the bridge?

Becker: Foels has measured it personally himself. The height is 11 feet, 6 inches and there's a sign right there with the height posted.

But even if it were a couple of inches off, it shouldn't matter. Foels pointed out that a standard trailer is 13 feet tall.

From Rick LaPlante: Maybe they have too much air in their tires? Or, maybe they put too much blacktop down? Also if the warning sign says there is an 18-foot limit, they should change it to say, “There is a 17-1/2-foot limit." That would then end the problem!

Becker: The air in the tires shouldn't matter. That's a matter of an inch or two.

For a previous article I wrote on this phenomenon at this bridge (this is at least my fourth) Brian Kimmins, president of Buffalo Transport Co., said it's the truck driver's responsibility to look for the sign on a bridge to see how high it is.

And if the driver isn't sure?

"The rule is," Kimmins said, "you slow down and if need be, you put your four-ways on and you get out and you look. You don't risk the integrity of the equipment or the people you share the road with."

From Darcy A Crofts: Are there spots for the trucks to turn around safely before getting to the bridge? Truck drivers GPSs should be telling them about the bridge and rerouting them, but if they are using a regular GPS it doesn't tell them about low bridges. Wondering if they are chancing it because there is no turn around for them.

Foels: The new truck ban spans from Fremont Street Bridge to the Vietnam Veterans Highway on/off ramp, and those are both places where trucks could turn around and not get stuck or have to go through a residential neighborhood.

From Jean Luck: I beg the question, where are these trucks coming from/destinations? Young Street is a strange route for these tractor-trailers to be using.

Foels: Many of the trucks are northbound on Young Street to North Tonawanda. They are likely getting off I-290 at Colvin Avenue or the Twin City Highway (Route 425.) Foels suspects many of the drivers were trying to avoid paying tolls on the Grand Island Bridge by cutting through the Tonawandas.

From Joanne Slater: When are these electric signs, florescent signs or whatever going up to prevent this? Why are the GPS wrong? 

Becker: The new signs should be up in the next week to 10 days. As for the GPS, many truck drivers use commercial GPS systems which alert them to things like a low bridge or a weight or cargo restriction on a roadway. The driver of the last truck that struck the bridge earlier this week told police that he forgot his commercial GPS at home and was relying on the one on his cellphone, which doesn't have the special alerts.

From Kevin Hitchcock: Why doesn’t the city put a warning light up that is activated by the height of truck. Like a beam that goes to a reflector that when the beam is broken it set off a siren or very large horn. It probably wouldn’t cost much over $20,000. Oh but I forgot the city will do it so it will cost 10 times that.

Foels: CSX won't let the city put any kind of sign on the bridge. The city could put a flashing sign up but that would cost about $20,000 or so.

From Melissa Kate: Why not put up a billboard and every time another truck gets stuck, the billboard adds another picture of the truck with the date.

Foels: If the truckers aren't looking at the other signs, they're probably not going to look at a billboard either.

From Jean Ford: Were all the drivers male?

Foels: Ha, ha. Foels can't say for sure if they were all male, but, he thinks certainly most of them were men.

A question I've heard quite a bit: Should they post the height restriction in the metric system?

Becker: Many of the drivers involved in the crashes are Canadian and there's a theory out there that they're not able to convert the figures to the metric system.

"We thought of that metric thing," Foels said. The city asked DOT but they forbade it. There's concern of even more confusion.

For the record, it's 3.5 meters.

Trucks banned from Young Street near oft-struck CSX bridge

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