11 foot 8 Bridge

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11 foot 8 Bridge
Durham--Gregson Street Guillotine 01.jpg
Warning signs and flashing lights at the Gregson Street Railroad Bridge; photograph taken prior to installation of traffic signals on this side of bridge
Coordinates35°59′57″N 78°54′37″W / 35.9990744°N 78.910231°W / 35.9990744; -78.910231Coordinates: 35°59′57″N 78°54′37″W / 35.9990744°N 78.910231°W / 35.9990744; -78.910231
Norfolk Southern Railway
CrossesSouth Gregson Street
LocaleDurham, North Carolina, U.S.
Official nameNorfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass
Other name(s)Canopener Bridge
OwnerNorth Carolina Railroad
Structure Number000000000630068
DesignStringer/Multi-beam or Girder
Total length92 feet (28 m)
No. of spans2
Clearance below11 ft 8 in (3.56 m)
Construction end1940
Daily traffic11,000 (2003) with 6% of truck traffic

The 11 foot 8 Bridge (formally known as the Norfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass and nicknamed The Can-Opener) is a railroad bridge in Durham, North Carolina, United States, that has attracted media coverage and popular attention because tall vehicles such as trucks, buses and RVs frequently collide with the unusually low overpass, resulting in damage ranging from RV roof air conditioners being scraped off to entire truck roofs being removed.[1] The 79-year-old bridge along South Gregson Street provides only 11 feet 8 inches (3.56 m) of vertical clearance.[2] It cannot be raised because nearby railroad crossings would also have to be raised with it. The street also cannot be lowered because a major sewer line runs only four feet (1.2 m) under Gregson Street.[3]

Gregson Street is a one-way street going southbound, so the bridge is only hit from the north side. Despite numerous signs and warning devices, a truck crashes into the bridge on average at least once a month. Most crashes involve rental trucks, even though rental agencies warn renters about the under-height bridges in the area.

Jürgen Henn, who works in a nearby office, mounted a video camera to record the crashes. Since April 2008, he has recorded over 100 crashes, and posted them on YouTube.[4] The videos gradually attracted the attention of a local TV station,[5] and eventually progressed to international media attention.[6] The bridge is only one of several under-height bridges in the area that trucks frequently crash into;[7] however, the videos became viral, and brought this particular bridge to international media attention, including front-page coverage in The Wall Street Journal,[6] and on an episode of the Comedy Central show Tosh.0.

As of January 2018, there have been no deaths and only three minor injuries at the bridge, leading officials to concentrate on more urgent safety issues.

Official actions[edit]

A view from under the bridge, facing traffic. Just below the bridge, is a wide-flange steel H-beam to protect it from over-height trucks. The beam's web is horizontal to better absorb the shear force of truck collisions. The vertical flanges spread the impact.
Screenshot of a truck damaged after attempting to go under the bridge, one of many vehicle collisions recorded by Jürgen Henn

The state of North Carolina owns the North Carolina Railroad Company, which owns the land and the bridge. (North Carolina Railroad owns no rolling stock, but leases tracks to Amtrak and Norfolk Southern Railway.[8]) A heavy steel crash beam protects the bridge from over-height trucks but does nothing to prevent crashes or protect the trucks. The crash beam has been hit so often that it had to be replaced at least once.

The Transportation Department of the City of Durham maintains Gregson Street, which runs under the bridge. The city installed height detectors on Gregson a block before the bridge. When an over-height truck passes by the detector, yellow warning lights flash to alert the drivers of trucks that will not clear the low underpass. However, many drivers fail to heed the warnings and crash into the bridge.

The problem is complicated by the location of Peabody Street, which runs parallel to the tracks, and intersects Gregson, just before the bridge. Not all trucks traveling on Gregson will continue under the bridge. Some large trucks must turn right onto Peabody to make their deliveries. Over-height trucks are allowed on Gregson, as long as they turn just before the bridge.

New traffic light[edit]

In May 2016, the city attempted to solve the problem by installing a traffic signal at the intersection, removing the yellow warning lights in return.[9] When an over-height truck approaches, the light turns yellow, then red, and a screen displays the message "OVERHEIGHT MUST TURN". The light will eventually turn green again, even if a truck driver chooses not to turn. The city hoped the long delay would give drivers time to realize their trucks will not fit under the bridge. However, trucks have continued to hit the bridge despite this.


In 2014, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Rail Division and the City of Durham began a "Traffic Separation Study" of 18 rail crossings over a 12-mile (19 km) section of the railroad. Gregson Street is in the middle of that section of track but was not mentioned in the study. The study focused on eliminating at-grade crossings, not on fixing grade-separated crossings such as the one at Gregson. There have been four deaths and two other injuries in the study area since 1991, compared to only three minor injuries at Gregson.

The study did recommend replacing the bridge at Roxboro Street, because it has a vertical clearance of only 11 feet 4 inches (3.45 m), and "Many trucks have gotten stuck under the Roxboro Street railroad bridge."[10] Local news has reported crashes at the Roxboro Street bridge.[7][11]

As of January 2016, recommendations made in the study have not been implemented.


  1. ^ Gutierrez, Gabe (January 7, 2016). "This Bridge Continues Wreaking Havoc on Unsuspecting Truck Drivers". NBC Nightly News. NBC News. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
  2. ^ Gibbs, Tamara (June 22, 2015). "Trucks Hit Same Durham Bridge Hours Apart". Eyewitness News. Durham, NC: WTVD-TV. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  3. ^ Mitchell, David (April 12, 2013). "Video: Trucks Smash into Bridge Time After Time After Time". Denver: KDVR-TV. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
  4. ^ Cohen, Ben (January 6, 2016). "The Joys of Watching a Bridge Shave the Tops off Trucks". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
  5. ^ Erin Hartness (March 18, 2009). "Man's videos span year of trucks hitting Durham bridge". WRAL-TV. Capitol Broadcasting Company. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  6. ^ a b Hooley, Danny (January 6, 2016). "A Little off the Top: Durham's 'Canopener Bridge' Makes the Front Page of the Wall Street Journal,". Indy Week. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Another Truck Slams Into Durham Bridge, Gets Stuck". Eyewitness News. Durham, NC: WTVD-TV. August 6, 2015. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
  8. ^ Gary D. Robertson (November 26, 2012). "NC lawmakers seeking more from railroad company". The Daily Herald, Roanoke Rapids, NC. Associated Press. Archived from the original on December 1, 2012. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
  9. ^ Chris Williams (July 8, 2016). "Truck Slams Into Durham's 'Can Opener' Bridge Despite New Warning System". Spectrum News. Time Warner Cable. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  10. ^ Matthew West (March 27, 2014). Traffic Separation Study (TSS) (Report). City of Durham, North Carolina. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
  11. ^ "Tractor-trailer hits Roxboro Street bridge in Durham". WRAL-TV. Capitol Broadcasting Company. December 9, 2014. Retrieved January 18, 2016.

External links[edit]