published Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Low bridge: Cleveland eyes signal changes to reduce collisions at underpass

City officials are considering possible changes to height warning signage at the Inman Street railroad underpass in downtown Cleveland, Tenn. The Norfolk Southern railway bridge has been repeatedly struck by commercial transport, rental trucks and RVs over the years, causing numerous scrapes and dents to the structure.
City officials are considering possible changes to height warning signage at the Inman Street railroad underpass in downtown Cleveland, Tenn. The Norfolk Southern railway bridge has been repeatedly struck by commercial transport, rental trucks and RVs over the years, causing numerous scrapes and dents to the structure.
Photo by Paul Leach.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Cleveland officials are seeking a way to reduce the number of vehicle crashes at the Norfolk Southern railway bridge that passes over Inman Street at Five Points.

The Public Works Department and Cleveland Utilities are working toward improving signs that warn drivers of the concrete bridge's low clearance, which is 10 feet, 10 inches.

The bridge routinely takes hits from commercial transports, rental vans and recreational vehicles, Public Works Director Tommy Myers said. At least 50 percent of the crashes involve rental trucks, he said.

"Most of the crashes happen because many drivers are used to driving their cars through the underpass every day," Myers said. "When they take their normal route with a rental van, they don't think about it and they run into the bridge."

The bridge typically has one crash a month, said Dave Pidgeon, spokesman for Norfolk Southern.

Although the bridge has accumulated plenty of scars over the years, it remains structurally sound, officials said.

"We perform annual inspections of all our bridges to ensure they are safe for railroad traffic," Pidgeon said.

Myers said, "When they designed that bridge, they did a good job. It's tough. It's taken some licks."

Public Works personnel are looking beyond the bridge's integrity, however, and trying make it safer for residents, Myers said.

Cleveland Utilities' traffic division is looking at "early warning systems," said Bart Borden, vice president of the utility's electric division.

One system under consideration pairs an array of slow-flashing signals with a set of rapid-flash LED lights triggered by vehicle height detectors, Borden said. It costs about $70,000, he said.

The goal is to determine "the best and most economical solution to warn traffic of insufficient clearance," Borden said.

Inman Street, part of state Route 60, is eligible for some safety-related grants from the Tennessee Department of Transportation. However, grant scoring has been a challenge because so many underpass crashes go unreported, Myers said. According to official crash data for the bridge, the incident numbers are not sufficient for grant funding.

The city also has approached Norfolk Southern for financial assistance, Myers said.

Another early warning system is expected to be reviewed in an upcoming meeting between Public Works and Cleveland Utilities personnel, officials said.

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