WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – A series of new pavement markers and added signage on Westchester County parkways have led to a decided decrease in tractor trailers striking low hanging overpasses, a problem that has plagued the area for years.
According to Kieran O’Leary, the spokesperson for the Westchester County Police, as Sept. of 30 of this year, at the four parkways controlled by the county – the Hutchinson River, Saw Mill, Bronx River and Cross County – there have been just 23 bridges struck, down from 48 through the same period last year. The number represents a decrease of more than 50 percent.
In all, there were 62 strikes in 2012, an increase from 50 in 2011. In 2010, there were just 33 strikes, though the county averaged 50 in the two years prior.
O’Leary said that the subject has been studied by the multi-agency Bridge Strike Mitigation Task Force that was created last year. The organization includes members of the county police, and department of public works, as well as officials from state, local law enforcement and trucking companies.
“At the direction of County Executive Astorino, our representatives pushed for pavement warnings to be added to parkway entrance ramps and to lanes of travel on the road,” he said. “It is too soon to say if the downward trend will continue long-term, but we are encouraged by the significant reduction we have seen in the first nine months of this year.”
During his time on the campaign trail, Astorino said that limiting the number of commercial trucks colliding with county bridges is something his office continues to work on.
“Nine of the 10 most frequently struck (bridges) in the state are in Westchester County,” he said. “We got them to mark the roads where there shouldn’t be trucks and it has actually helped a lot.”
The increased signage and warnings leading onto parkways are just one measure being taken to decrease bridge strikes. The state is contemplating installing “Over-height Vehicle Detection Systems,” which use laser technology to identify illegal vehicles that would then trigger a sign warning for drivers to exit the parkway.
O’Leary added that until commercial GPS units are required in tractor trailers, out of state drivers who are unfamiliar with the low overpasses on state parkways are going to continue to be a problem.
“The most common scenario we encounter is an out of state driver who is unfamiliar with our roads relying on a non-commercial GPS device or smart phone GPS program,” he said.
The issue of truck drivers using non-sanctioned GPS devices has become such an important issue that U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer called on the Department of Transportation to regulate them. Schumer said that misused GPS devices caused 80 percent of bridge strikes last year, although no changes have been made yet.
“The devices are great to get grandma and grandpa to your house, and they’re great for motorists, but it’s directing too many trucks to our parkways,” he said. “I’m calling on the DOT to issue standards for GPS devices. I like the commercial trucking industry. I want to keep everyone safe.”
When a bridge is struck, it creates chaos not only for the driver, but also for other motorists and local law enforcement. Upon a strike, the road has to be closed and spilled cargo must be cleaned. A private tow company then removes the truck and trailer, along with any spare cargo. A bridge inspector then must evaluate the structure for damage. According to O’Leary, “truckers keep hitting the bridges, and the bridges keep winning.”
New Rochelle resident Alex Johnson was driving on the Hutchinson River Parkway last November when she said she nearly struck a sudden wall of traffic stemming from a trailer that collided with the East 3rd Street Bridge in Mount Vernon.
“It must have just happened, because I was going right along and had to swerve out of the way to avoid hitting the backed up traffic. Police hadn’t even gotten on scene yet,” she said. “It was really scary. I got lucky, but it could have very easily led to an accident.”