With the Glenville train bridge getting struck by a truck about as regularly as a full moon, we’ve become accustomed to bridge strikes being no big deal.
Sure, some truck gets turned into a half-opened sardine can. Maybe the driver spills a few rolls toilet paper or some wood. Maybe traffic is delayed a few hours and police and highway crews are inconvenienced.
But on Wednesday, we came disturbingly close to the reality of the kind of damage and potential carnage that can be done when a too-tall truck strikes a too-low bridge at a high rate of speed.
At about 5:30 Wednesday morning, a trucker driving one of those lift-trucks used by power and cable companies struck the Sitterly Road overpass at Northway Exit 9 in Clifton Park.
The boom lift was ripped completely off the truck. Several steel beams upholding the overpass were bent and in one case, one was cut completely through.
Repairs will costs tens of thousands of dollars and cause traffic issues for weeks.
But the real tragedy was avoided — this time.
Had the collision happened a couple hours later, there would have been line of vehicles behind that truck when its giant metal arm fell into the traffic behind it.
Deaths would have been inevitable.
Same thing if the strike had caused the overpass to collapse onto the Northway or caused chunks of pavement to rain down.
Bridge strikes here in New York are way too common. From 2015 to 2020, more than 1,100 bridges were struck, an average of about 220 strikes a year.
Commercial drivers who strike bridges are either not aware of the actual heights of their vehicles, are inattentive to posted bridge heights or just ignore the danger.
The government needs to finally crack down before a real tragedy occurs.
As we’ve seen in Glenville, signs and flashing lights haven’t been able to stop the crashes. More effort must be put into technology and early-warning signals.
The state also needs more deterrents.
New York last year boosted the penalties for striking bridges, topping out at a $2,000 fine and 90 days in jail. That’s hardly a deterrent. The fines should be 10 times that, at least, and the state should automatically revoke licenses, registrations and company operating permits.
The state and federal governments also must consider hitting the trucking industry with new regulations, perhaps requiring commercial drivers to carry updated GPS equipment and have vehicles equipped with low-bridge alarms and other safeguards. The expense will be small compared to the cost of a collision.
So far, we’ve been lucky with bridge strikes.
Without stronger, decisive intervention, our luck may soon run out.