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PERSPEC TIVE

Why do trucks keep hitting bridges?

Every time a truck strikes an overpass on a Westchester parkway, state Assemblyman Tom Abinanti feels like he’s banging his head against a wall.

For years, he’s been calling for the state to find a way to keep trucks off the parkways, where large commercial vehicles are prohibited by law. Partial measures have helped.

And yet, we rarely go more than a few weeks without a truck crashing into a low bridge or overpass, usually on the Hutchinson River Parkway, causing expensive damage and traffic backups that can last for hours. The dangers to nearby drivers are obvious. Non-commercial GPS systems are making things worse, directing trucks to parkways.

On April 26, a box truck carrying furniture on the Hutch hit a bridge by Wilmot Road in New Rochelle, and the driver of a car behind the truck was injured. Only days ago, on June 4, a truck carrying foam containers hit an overpass at the Mount-Vernon border, slowing traffic.

“I don’t understand why they don’t want to fix this,” said Abinanti, DGreenburgh. “They just don’t want to do it.” (By “they,” he meant the state Department of Transportation and the governor’s office.) In 2016, Gov. Cuomo vetoed a bill sponsored by Abinanti and state Sen. Terrence Murphy, R-Yorktown, that would have forced the state DOT to identify the parkway entrances in Westchester most frequently — and illegally — visited by commercial vehicles and to install height barriers at those entrances.

The governor’s office said at the time that the DOT was taking sufficient steps to deal with the problem. But days after the veto, there was an accident on the Hutch involving a truck.

Abinanti has a similar bill this session (A08008), which the Assembly passed 127-14 on Tuesday. But Murphy’s companion bill (S08211) is stuck in committee, as the Senate is paralyzed. Republicans have a 1-vote edge in the Senate but are missing a member and don’t have the votes to pass legislation without Democratic assistance.

Sounds like Abinanti will keep getting headaches.

But there may be new interest in finding a solution. Westchester County Executive George Latimer recently declared that bridge strikes “cannot go on,” and is calling on concerned parties to meet and act. It’s important to note that Latimer’s director of operations, Joan McDonald, is a former commissioner of the state DOT who knows the parkway issues well.

The state has taken steps to keep commercial vehicles off the Hutch. In 2012, “NO TRUCKS” warnings were painted on the pavement at entrances to the Hutch and Saw Mill River Parkway. In 2015, the DOT — when McDonald was in charge — installed warning systems at several entrances to the Hutch that project infrared beams warning drivers to pull over and call police.

These moves have reduced the number of commercial trucks on the parkways. But overpass hits keep happening. Why? Commercial drivers may be absent minded, use non-commercial GPS systems that don’t flag parkway prohibitions, or ignore a variety of warning signs. Maybe some simply want to get somewhere faster and think they’ll fit under those low bridges until — bang!

This is a statewide issue. Such crashes have occurred on the Palisades Interstate Parkway that stretches from northern New Jersey through Rockland. In April, a coach bus carrying 38 high students hit an overpass on the Southern State Parkway on Long Island, resulting in numerous injuries. On June 1, a box truck hit the same overpass.

Abinanti and Long Island state Sen. Phil Boyle (A08008, S08211) have new legislation that would call on the DOT to study the problem and install barriers on a statewide basis. They have to start building momentum now for possible action in the next legislative session. Karin White of the Trucking Association of New York told The Journal News/lohud that the organization is on board with a statewide approach, whatever it takes to “warn trucks that they shouldn’t be on those roads.”

Abinanti believes that the answer is the construction of basic height barriers at the entrances of parkways that commercial drivers will make contact with if they try to pass under. He likes barriers used in Boston that are not pretty to look at but get the job done.

“Traffic engineers can’t communicate with regular people,” he said. “The only way to make it clear to the driver is to put something across the entranceway.”

Gary Stern is engagement editor. Follow him on Twitter: @GarySternNY

A tractor-trailer was destroyed on the Hutchinson River Parkway when it hit the King Street overpass on Aug. 18, 2017.

MATT SPILLANE/THE JOURNAL NEWS

Assemblymen Tom Abinanti, D-Greenburgh, has been calling for the state to find a way to keep trucks off the parkways. AP

Gary Stern

Engagement Editor Rockland/Westchester Journal News

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