Information is power. Power is leverage. Leverage is influence. And influence leads to action.
Here in New York, we need action to end the plague of vehicles striking bridges.
This happens a couple of hundred times a year in New York, costing taxpayers millions of dollars in bridge repairs, cleanup, traffic delays, police and emergency services, and loss of business.
It also has the potential to cause injury and death.
The more information the state puts out regarding bridge strikes, the more attention the problem will get and the more that can lead to action that reduces the number of strikes — and the human and taxpayer costs associated with them.
That’s why it’s imperative that before they go home for the summer this week, the state Legislature pass a bill (A7016B/S6644B) that would give the public and lawmakers more information about the number and scope of bridge strikes in the state.
The bill, co-sponsored by local Assemblymen Angelo Santabarbara and John T. McDonald III and Syracuse-area Sen. John Mannion, would require the state Department of Transportation to produce a detailed annual report on crashes involving vehicles striking bridges or other elevated structures, and to include that report in the DOT commissioner’s annual report to the Legislature.
Under the bill, the report would have to include the number of collisions; the location of the crashes; any repairs that had to be made, including collision-prevention measures; efforts made in the previous year to prevent collisions; and recommendations for preventing crashes in the future.
It’s not that lawmakers are unaware of collisions in their own districts. Our monthly photos of sardine-canned tractor-trailers at the Glenridge Road railroad overpass in Glenville are part of local folklore. Many other legislators have their own low bridges that serve as virtual truck magnets.
But if legislators see in one report how often bridges are struck statewide, the costs of such repairs and the many the actions state officials are taking to try to prevent future strikes, it may compel them to take further action.
That could mean investing more tax dollars into mitigation measures, including the possibility of raising bridges or lowering roadways where possible. It could mean establishing a more comprehensive, up-to-date electronic system for identifying bridges by height, alerting drivers and suggesting alternative routes. Right now, a lot of drivers rely on MapQuest or other inadequate notification services that don’t provide them with enough information about upcoming low bridges. Other legislative action in response to these reports could include tougher penalties and higher fines for drivers that strike bridges or that fail to use the most up-to-date electronic detection practices to avoid them.
The Glenridge Road bridge has numerous warning signs and flashing lights in each direction alerting drivers to the bridge, and the state is setting up a new electronic alert system with height sensors and cameras as we speak. Yet drivers continue to hit it. And they probably still will.
There has to be more that state government can do to reduce the number of bridge strikes in New York.
Giving lawmakers the detailed information they need to inspire them to take action is a solid first step.