When truckers move under a bearing too low for the height of their big-rigs, bridge strikes happen.
Because it has been a prevalent issue in the state of Illinois, the Illinois Department of Transportation is pushing forward two potential pilot initiatives–both of which would aim to lower the number of large truck bridge strikes.
“Hit the road, not a bridge!” said IDOT recently in a tweet. “The average bridge strike costs $400,000 to fix? They also can cause backups, detours, and all sorts of safety issues. Truckers, please measure freight sizes, get your permits, and stay on the correct route.”
Because many drivers will watch navigation information on their cellphones or on printed route directions, IDOT is proposing a program dubbed “audible turn-by-turn navigation.” This initiative would allow IDOT to offer route information electronically through a cloud-based application for drivers to audibly hear all their navigation details without having to look at a document or a mobile device.
The GIS data providers that are working on this technology have said it is nearly ready for release. Presently, they are working on some platform format problems and will soon allow IDOT to test the system. If it is found to be acceptable, a select number of fleets will be able to test the technology and compare it to other methods of navigation. The system will be fully adopted by the industry if IDOT finds no problems with its implementation.
The second pilot program is the HawkScan oversize vehicle measurement system, an initiative that will use sensors and cameras to digitally measure freight loads off of Interstate 70 at the westbound Maryville weigh station. The data collected from these scans can measure and classify trucks during normal traffic congestion conditions and can also verify a truck’s permit information.
This particular weigh station in southwest Illinois has processed more than 48,100 trucks in Illinois so far in 2021, and expects to process around 200,000 by the end of the year. The oversize vehicle measurement system has already been set up temporarily at this location.
“If all is accurate on the permit with the information gathered, the driver will be allowed to continue on without stopping,” said Geno Koehler, IDOT Permit Unit Chief. “Both projects are very exciting, and many people in the [oversize and overweight] industry are looking forward to their success.”
Because many agricultural shipments are hauled through Illinois, some truck drivers may not be aware that they are driving on a route including a bridge with a lower clearance than they might expect, explained Matt Hart, Executive Director for the Illinois Trucking Association. This is a major issue because agricultural equipment hauling is vital to the state of Illinois (and because the state’s top exports include animal feed and cereal grains, according to IDOT’s Illinois State Freight Plan).
Because these drivers are often not aware of low-clearance bridges, IDOT’s District 5 has had nine bridge strikes in the last year and a half, with each hit costing between $25,000 and $3 million to repair. On average, oversize load bridge strikes–either by farm equipment or large trucks–cost around $400,000 on average in repairs. When these accidents occur, they often lead to closures, road safety problems, detours, and traffic congestion.
Additionally, especially in the Chicago metro area, Hart noted that towing companies are especially costly for a truck that gets itself stuck under a bridge–with these bills coming out to around $100,000 per incident.
“It’s pretty disheartening when you have a truck that hits one of these bridges and [the driver is] already upset enough, but then you have tow companies that are taking advantage of that situation and are strapping these trucking companies with tens of thousands of dollars in towing fees just to get the vehicle out of that low-clearance bridge,” said Hart. “They know that out-of-state trucks are likely to hit those bridges because they’re not familiar with the area. After safety, this also becomes an economic issue.”
IDOT has released recommendations regarding how to prevent these accidents, with detailed steps including the need to stay on authorized routes, obtain proper permits, and measure freight loads well in advance. Drivers of permitted loads should also remember to only take the routes IDOT recommends.