Westchester County Exec Cites Progress In Reducing Bridge Strikes | WAMC

Westchester County Exec Cites Progress In Reducing Bridge Strikes

Feb 3, 2020

There is progress in reducing the number of truck collisions with a bridge over a major parkway in Westchester County. The county executive says a state-funded project helped. Yet he hopes more can be done using GPS applications.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer is a Democrat.

“We’ve known for a long time that the King Street Bridge, which divides New York and Connecticut, has the dubious title of being the number-one most struck bridge in New York state by various vehicles,” Latimer says.

The 2019 results from Westchester County and New York are in for the number of truck collisions with the King Street Bridge above the Hutchinson River Parkway in Rye Brook.

“So we’re happy to report that, with year-end 2019 statistics in, we had a total of eight bridge strikes at King Street Bridge,” Latimer says. “That compares to 24 bridge strikes a year ago, and double-digit bridge strikes that have occurred in the years prior to that.”

Latimer hopes the decreasing number ends up as a trend. The King Street Bridge was struck 130 times from 2008 — 2018. He credits state lawmakers from the region for helping to secure funding that resulted in a $1.8 million state Department of Transportation bridge strike prevention project that was completed last year. The project included an over-height vehicle detection system and additional warnings.

“The state put up electronic message boards," says Latimer. "They’re officially known as variable message signs, and they convey information in lighted yellow print against the black backdrop, which is much more visible than the standard sign at night, which you may not see, even though it has reflective look on it. And it says ‘Low Bridges Ahead. Trucks exit now. All Trucks Buses RVs Must Exit. Trucks Stay On I-287. Low Bridge On Exit 9N,’ and it goes on and on.”

But there’s one piece missing that Latimer believes would drive the numbers down even further.

“We still believe that the single biggest thing we need is a change in the GPS system,” Latimer says. “There is a commercial GPS product out there that a trucker can use. It’s not mandated by law. It’s not mandated by insurance. And we would hope that from the state or federal legislative level they would look at that issue and determine if it’s necessary to do that.”

Democratic state Senator Shelley Mayer is from the 37th district.

“We are looking at the GPS legislation. There are issues with interstate commerce that make it a more complex issue than it ought to be, but that’s the way it goes,” Mayer says. “So we will be working hard to try to push towards commercial GPS in trucks that are driven in New York to the extent that we can regulate it. And we’ll be working with the county and the county board to see what we can do. It may take a federal push.”

Latimer says with heavy reliance upon GPS systems — ones not designed specifically for commercial use — bridge clearance heights are not identified.  Enter three U.S. Senators, include New York’s Charles Schumer, who say that while commercial-grade GPS apps are available for purchase, many truckers skip doling out the money and instead rely only on apps on their personal phones. Schumer and fellow Democrats Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Ed Markey of Massachuetts are urging Google, Apple and Waze to provide clear and timely notification to commercial vehicle drivers using personal apps about potential restrictions on their route. Rye Brook resident and Democratic County Legislator Nancy Barr:

“And one thing that we plan to do as a legislature this year is to lobby for the GPS changes that the county executive was talking about,” Barr says.

Rye Brook Village Mayor Paul Rosenberg says not only are the bridge strikes hazardous, but they can put a strain on local resources.

“It was just an insane use of resources both on the village level and the county level to have to clean this up. I remember one afternoon a couple years ago, a truck hit that bridge. It was full of butter. It went… Seriously, it was full of butter,” Rosenberg says. “It sheared the top off the truck, which is very frequently what happens. The butter caught on fire, the fire went into… the butter melted as it was on fire. The fire went into the storm drains in Connecticut.”

Latimer hopes to work with the state to replicate efforts at King Street at some other locations in the county that more commonly experience bridge strikes.

“We would look at trying to put as much of these things in place as possible. The VMS signs are expensive, and we could sit down and probably make a list of 30 places that they should be in the county. Those resources are not available for us to do all of it,” says Latimer. “But what I would say to anybody who is asking me, ‘what about us?’ We tested it out here, we think we have positive results and we’re going to try to replicate it in as many places as we can.”

Latimer says nearly all of the truck strikes involved drivers from out-of-state, excluding New Jersey and Connecticut.