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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.

llbxy October 10, 2012 at 10:25 AM
"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 train" I think placing a train across the roadway might be excessive...
BandannaMan October 10, 2012 at 11:33 AM
This is news.
Duncan Munchkin October 10, 2012 at 01:07 PM
I recommend the borough hire a "trucking guard" that will sit in a folding chair right past Hillside and flag down any trucks that look too high. I love the quote from NJT...we have lots of bridges that get hit all the time. Clearly, this won't end until a train car falls into the roadway.
Ron Swanson October 10, 2012 at 01:28 PM
There is absolutely nothing the Borough Council can do to ensure that drivers know how high their trucks are, so there is no sense in talking about what bad drivers these truck drivers are. Also, you can put signs all over the place and these bridges will continue to get struck. There is one and only one solution: lower the roadway or raise the bridges. They are ridiculously low anyway and impede the free flow of truck traffic around town and to and from Rt. 24. For a truck driver to have to figure out how to include Lafayette Avenue in his navigation plan so he can make a delivery someplace else in town is ridiculous. The Council needs to engage the County on a plan to lower the roadway on Watchung Avenue since it is doubtful NJT will invest any money in raising the bridge. Not to defend these truck drivers, but they need to get around town and shouldn't have to deal with bridges built at a height to accomodate horse-drawn milk trucks.
Sir October 10, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Lonergan had a different question. "Why, all of a sudden in the last year, is this happening almost weekly? What changed?" Hey Jim, perhaps the frequency in the # of trucks using the route has changed???
Sir October 10, 2012 at 01:36 PM
They should take river to southern. End of discussion. Leave the height of the bridge as it is.
CB October 10, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Hey, Chatham folks: I know this has nothing to do with this issue, but has the addition been completed to the Chatham Day School? And if so, do any of you have information on negative impacts, especially due to traffic, since its completion? The same traffic "expert" is testifying and it appears her testimony is almost always identical: "there will be no negative impact on the traffic with the new construction." So, any info you can provide would be very much appreciated! Thanks.
AAM October 10, 2012 at 07:22 PM
All the truckers use GPS now and don't read the signs anymore. They just blindly follow the the woman giving the direrctions. More signs won't help if the drivers do pay attention to them.
Jacques Ular October 12, 2012 at 01:21 PM
"Councilman Vicki Fife was incredulous"...WOW! No wonder the council is effective.

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