CLEVELAND, Tenn. - The installation of new signs warning of the low clearance at the Inman Street railroad underpass seems to be paying off since they were installed 10 months ago, city officials said.
In fact, no crashes have occurred at the bridge since the warning system was installed July 23, Cleveland police Chief David Bishop said in a recent memorandum to City Manager Janice Casteel.
The warning system relies on LED-trimmed "low clearance" signs combined with reflective bands of red and yellow-green stripes aligned horizontally across the lower edges of the underpass.
"From the data we collected, it appears the LED flashing sign installed on the underpass has been effective in reducing crashes into the bridge," Bishop said. "In the 12-plus months prior to the installation ... there were nine crashes into the underpass."
The decades-old underpass, which has a clearance of 10 feet, 10 inches, has had a history of hits from vehicles that were too tall to pass through it.
"The drop in accidents has been tremendous," said Tommy Myers, director of Cleveland's Public Works Department.
The warning system was a joint venture pursued by Myers' department and Cleveland Utilities' traffic division.
Myers said at least 50 percent of the crashes at the underpass involved rental vans. However, commercial transports and recreational vehicles also hit the bridge.
"Most of the crashes happen because many drivers are used to driving their cars through the underpass every day," Myers has said. "When they take their normal route with a rental van, they don't think about it and they run into the bridge."
Before installing more effective warning signs, Public Works' response to crashes was limited to cosmetic fixes to the bridge, which routinely had black impact marks and large dents.
Although the bridge had received a sea gray makeover by early 2013, which minimized the appearance of its nicks and scratches better than its previous cream color, improving public safety was the key concern, Myers said.
The railroad bridge is structurally sound, regardless of the number of impacts it has experienced, Norfolk Southern spokesman Dave Pidgeon said in a spring 2013 meeting.
"We perform annual inspections of all our bridges to ensure they are safe for railroad traffic," he said.
Those inspections indicated that no vehicle impacts have affected the ability of the Inman Street railroad bridge to safely conduct trains, Pidgeon said.
"It's tough -- it's taken some licks," Myers said.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.