Multiple Bridge Strikes Concern Borough Officials
Engineer to write a letter asking NJ Transit to address the ongoing issue.
Chatham Borough Council President James Lonergan had a question for Engineer Vincent J. DeNave at Tuesday's meeting.
"Is there something we think we can do ... about all the bridge strikes in town?" Lonergan asked. "It's getting to the point of ridiculousness now. It's almost every week," he said.
He was referring to truck drivers who have struck multiple New Jersey Transit bridge overpasses in town, including, most recently, a truck which hit the bridge across Fairmount Avenue.
Bridges across Washington Avenue, Hillside Avenue and especially Watchung Avenue are also hit regularly by trucks. From July to August this year, the Watchung Avenue bridge was struck seven times.
DeNave said he has spoken with NJ Transit about the bridge's structural integrity. "They are not at all concerned about the safety of that bridge," he said, referring specifically to the Watchung Avenue bridge overpass. "It's a metal bridge with concrete."
NJ Transit sends engineers to inspect the bridges each time it is hit. "They've never had an issue," DeNave said.
DeNave said he asked NJ Transit about possible early warning signs before the bridge to give truck drivers a chance to turn around, such as a chain across the roadway.
NJ Transit told DeNave they would not pay for such a sign, and would expect Morris County to pay because Watchung Avenue is a county road. "They believe that it ... ends up being distracting to drivers," DeNave said.
Each driver who hits a bridge is issued a summons for careless driving. DeNave said drivers already do not pay attention to the heights of the bridges, which are clearly posted on both sides.
"We constantly replace the signs that give the height limitations of the bridges," DeNave said.
Mayor Bruce A. Harris said often when he reads the police reports on these accidents, "the driver didn't know how high his truck was. He saw the sign, he just didn't know."
Councilman James Collander specifically referred to a truck that became stuck under the Fairmount Avenue overpass in the middle of the fallout from the October 2011 snowstorm, when most of the borough was still without power.
"He looked right at the height, and he had no idea how high his truck was. He peeled his whole truck back. It's just bad driving," Collander said."
Councilman Vicki Fife was incredulous. "Shouldn't they know how high their truck is?" she asked.
Lonergan had a different question. "Why, all of a sudden in the last year, is this happening almost weekly? What changed?"
Whether drivers are not as educated about their vehicles as they should be, or whether they are merely obeying navigational directions without paying attention to the posted bridge heights, "something's going on where it's happening almost weekly. ... And when you have something consistently happening, something's got to change," Lonergan said.
DeNave said NJ Transit views the problem differently. "They said they have a lot of bridges that get hit," he said.
Councilman John Holman asked if truck drivers were using Watchung Avenue as an alternative way to reach Route 24.
"I think Chatham is unique in that we only have one bridge that's high enough to accommodate trucks," DeNave said, referring to the bridge overpass across Lafayette Avenue.
Lonergan pointed out that these trucks also pose a danger to surrounding traffic when they hit a bridge. Sometimes cargo is spilled, or parts of the truck peeled off by the bridge strike other cars traveling on the roadway.
DeNave said he could write an official letter on the borough's behalf to NJ Transit to put the borough council's concerns on the record, and give a copy to the county.
Lonergan said the letter was worth it to formalize their concerns.