Thursday, April 28, 2016

Saving trucks from the ‘Can Opener Bridge’

The Gregson Street trestle bridge in Durham, N.C., is already internet-famous for peeling the tops off of unsuspecting box trucks. But officials with the state’s Department of Transportation hope they’ve finally found a system that will stymie the crashes once and for all.

The bridge, which boasts a clearance height of just 11-foot-8, is struck by overheight trucks on average at least once per month, according to NCDOT Engineer Jon Sandor, which has led to the bridge gaining quite a bit of notoriety.

Back in April 2008, Jurgen Henn, a Durham resident who works near the bridge set up cameras to record the intersection. He uploads the crash videos to his website,, and to YouTube. He’s logged 105 crashes so far, including this one from March, where a fast-moving Cintas truck popped a wheelie on impact with “the can opener.” He also has a handy guide about the history of the bridge, and why the problem can’t necessarily be resolved by simply raising the bridge height or lowering the road bed.

Sandor said NCDOT is upgrading the collision avoidance system at the intersection, with the hope that even inexperienced drivers won’t be able to miss it.

“Professional drivers know to avoid that area,” Sandor said in an interview with Land Line Now. “If you watch the videos online, the most common thing to hit (the bridge) is a typical box truck. Anyone can rent those without a CDL. I think it’s just inexperience, and the route is the most direct way to get from A to B. Most GPS devices will take you that way and not even let you know it’s a low bridge.”

The upgrade will be a full-blown traffic signal at the bridge intersection. When an overheight vehicle is detected, it will turn the traffic signal red and illuminate a large LED sign that says “Overheight vehicle must turn” at the intersection just before the bridge. The system costs roughly $130,000.

The previous system used a laser-operated device to activate flashing lights warning of the height restriction, but Sandor said this latest system will go a step further by adding the traffic signal.

“We’re going to stop traffic, and the hope is that the driver of the overheight vehicle will recognize that they are the one that triggered all this and make the informed decision to turn at the intersection.”

Because the road underneath the trestle bridge is one-way, Sandor said there’s no need to install signals on both sides of the bridge. He said NCDOT hopes to begin testing the system next week before putting it into operation.

Sandor said the department is hopeful that this fix will be the thing that finally deters drivers from getting their trailer tops peeled.

“We hope this will get that driver’s attention and at least let them digest the process of what’s happening before they hit the bridge,” he said. “We’re optimistic at this point.

News Anchor Reed Black contributed to this report.