CAPITAL REGION – Naturally, Clifton Park Town Supervisor Philip Barrett said he was upset with the long-distance truckers who have struck the 10-foot, 1-inch railroad bridge on Carlton Road three times since September.
But Barrett admitted that as a fellow human being, the most recent crash on Nov. 16 struck him when he saw the driver leaning against the truck, despondent. The man would probably lose his job, Barrett speculated.
On the other hand, the inconvenience and expense of truck driver negligence have grown too costly to ignore, said Barrett, who’s joined forces with Glenville Supervisor Christopher Koetzle in discussing a broader approach to mitigating bridge strikes.
In each of the three instances, an out-of-state trucker – from California on Sept. 7, Georgia on Oct. 19, and Texas on Nov. 16 – was headed north when they struck the Clifton Park bridge, ultimately cited by state police for failing to obey a traffic control device and striking an underpass.
“We haven’t had an instance where there was an injury, thankfully,” Barrett said. “But the police are on scene and they are in charge as far as clearing the incident and the reports.”
“And then the road is closed for a lengthy period of time until the truck is removed,” said Barrett who called it an aggravation from the aspects of convenience, safe travels and preservation of the bridge.
Glenville – to an even greater extent – has also been plagued by truck drivers striking a Canadian Pacific Railway-owned bridge of 10-feet, 11-inches. It’s been struck 25 times this year, including two instances within hours of one another in November, Koetzle said.
There have been about 100 strikes and turnarounds in the bridge’s existence.
Koetzle and Barrett met recently in Clifton Park Town Hall in the first of what they say will be an ongoing dialogue about mitigating bridge strikes.
They were joined by Kendra Hems, president of the Trucking Association of New York, which is based in Clifton Park, and Pete Bardunias, senior vice president of The Capital Region Chamber.
“It just seemed to me that the two towns have a similar issue, and perhaps it would be best for us to work together toward a solution that will work for both communities, even though the situations are somewhat different,” said Barrett, who points to the Clifton Park offenders as professional drivers making deliveries.
Clifton Park Highway Supervisor Dahn Bull said Clifton Park, for a very long time, didn’t have much of an issue.
“Every once in a great while, we’d have a truck that would drive down slowly and realize it took a wrong turn and back up,” he said. “Now we’re having this situation where these 18-wheelers – not even just box trucks that might be able to squeak under – come through. And we’re seeing that they’re primarily delivery trucks for companies in the light industrial area on Van Patten Drive.”
Bull said the town is trying to work with those companies to let them know that they should work with their shipping vendors, to send them through Exit 10 instead of Exit 9 off the Northway. Doing so would avoid the bridge.
“The other thing too, is we’re trying to do everything we can in terms of language barriers,” Bull said, noting that each of the three drivers was a Spanish speaker.
“So we’re going to be putting up pictorial signage so whoever’s driving, you see a picture of a ‘no truck’ instead of just numbers and letters, and a sign that maybe you wouldn’t be familiar with if you spoke a different language,” he said.
Barrett said the town has a portable message board – in two languages – at the top of the road to serve as an additional alert to truckers.
“It’s a temporary situation, but the message board can obviously help grab somebody’s attention as they’re driving down the road,” Barrett said.
Koetzle said many of the bridge accidents in Glenville were by “weekend warriors” who rented trucks and didn’t have Commercial Driver’s Licenses.
“They’re supposed to know what they’re driving, but they’re not professional drivers,” Koetzle said.
But of the portion of the professional drivers who hit the Glenville bridge, some were from the Montreal area, Koetzle said.
“They’re French-Canadian and may not be well-versed in English or our measurement system,” he said.
Hems said bridge strikes are a growing concern throughout the state.
Statistics from the state Department of Transportation weren’t readily available Tuesday.
“We hear about the Glenville bridge and the one on Carlton Road here because they’re local,” Hems said.
“But when we go down towards New York City, we have a pretty high incidence of bridge strikes on parkways where trucks actually aren’t even supposed to be on the parkway,” she said.
“There’s a low bridge up in Syracuse that gets hit quite a bit. So it’s certainly not exclusive just to this region.”
Hems said bridge strikes involving tractor-trailers make the most news, but the bigger concern is with rented box trucks that are used for household or college moves.
“Whatever the case may be, they’re not familiar with the operating characteristics of a larger vehicle,” she said.
Koetzle said the meeting group wants to encourage the trucking industry to conduct more training and advocacy. He said they want to connect truckers and companies to the technology that’s available, to forewarn them of low bridges.
“Kendra talked about a GPS that can be put into technology that can be installed on trucks today that alert drivers to things like low bridges, and if the driver doesn’t react, it can do things like slow down the truck or do things that will get that driver’s attention,” Koetzle said.
“We’re talking about sending letters to all the trucking firms, or the most that we can touch here in New York State, and make sure that they understand that all their drivers are using the safety measures, and they understand the low bridges,” Koetzle said.
The meeting group also discussed a safety campaign.
“The beautiful thing about that is (the Trucking Association of New York) has the connections – their members are the truckers, the companies or independents,” Koetzle said. “Maybe we can launch a safety campaign on making sure you know your height type of thing.”
Meanwhile, the chamber has an information kiosk at the I-87 rest stop in Clifton Park, where messaging can bring more attention to the issue of low bridges, Koetzle said.
The Glenville official said he’s optimistic their work can have an impact.
“People can always say, ‘that’s not going to work,’ ” he said. “It’s going to be hard to reach everybody with the message. But I think if we continue to attack it at all angles in this comprehensive approach, and add these other layers, and have partners within the industry, I’m optimistic that it’s going to help.”
Barrett added he felt it was important for the local officials to hear Hems’ perspective, from the view of an organization that represents the trucking industry.
“There’s a lot of aspects to this problem, and we just want to do everything we can to keep it from occurring,” he said.
Hems said she also benefited from the meeting.
“It was really about how do we address this issue from a variety of different angles, to really mitigate these strikes and prevent them from happening,” she said. “Overall, I thought it was a really great conversation, and I was glad that we were able to get together and figure out how to work together to address the issue.”
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.