Norfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass
Norfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass
Warning signs and flashing lights at the Gregson Street Overpass. This photograph was taken prior to installation of traffic signals on this side of the bridge.
Norfolk Southern Railway
|Crosses||South Gregson Street|
|Locale||Durham, North Carolina, U.S.|
|Official name||Norfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass|
|Owner||North Carolina Railroad|
|Design||Stringer/Multi-beam or Girder|
|Total length||92 feet (28 m)|
|No. of spans||2|
|Clearance below||12 ft 4 in (3.76 m) (as of October 2019[update])|
|Daily traffic||11,000 (2003) with 6% of truck traffic|
The Norfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass (formerly known as the 11 foot 8 Bridge and nicknamed The Can-Opener or The Gregson Street Guillotine) is a railroad bridge in Durham, North Carolina, United States. The 79-year-old bridge allows passenger and freight trains to cross over South Gregson Street in downtown Durham. It was designed in the 1920s, and opened in 1940, with a clearance for vehicles of 11 feet 8 inches (3.56 m). This was a standard height at the time it opened. The standard clearance, since 1973, has a minimum height of 14 feet (4.3 m), which is 2 feet 4 inches (0.71 m) higher than the bridge as built.
Despite numerous warning signs about the low clearance, a large number of trucks, buses, and RVs have collided with the overpass at high speed, tearing off roof fixtures, and at times shearing off the truck's roof thus earning the bridge the nickname the Can-Opener.
The bridge gained fame as a nearby office worker, Jürgen Henn, set up cameras in 2008 to track the collisions with the bridge. From 2008 to October 2019, Henn recorded over 145 collisions with the bridge, which he shared on social media and which became viral. Despite the number of crashes, there have been only three injuries reported, making rebuilding of the bridge a low-priority concern.
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.) A heavy steel crash beam protects the bridge from over-height trucks but does nothing to prevent crashes or protect the trucks, acting to create a "can opener effect" equivalent to the opening of a sardine can where the top of the over-height truck is loosened from its frame. 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
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. 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, the possible reason being that local buses usually fit underneath but the sensors display the overheight message anyway.
Traffic separation study
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." Local news has reported crashes at the Roxboro Street bridge.
As of January 2016[update], recommendations made in the study have not been implemented.
In October 2019, the North Carolina Railroad Company began work to raise the bridge by 8 inches (20 cm) as part of a $500,000 project to improve safety and reduce damage to the span. The bridge was raised to a new height of 12 feet 4 inches (3.76 m), the maximum clearance that wouldn't affect the grades of nearby crossings. The entire project is expected to take two weeks to complete, although the actual raising on October 30 only took 8 hours.
Media and internet coverage
Jürgen Henn, who works in a nearby office, mounted a video camera to record the crashes. Since April 2008, he has recorded over 148 crashes, and posted them on YouTube. The videos gradually attracted the attention of a local TV station, and eventually progressed to international media attention. The bridge is only one of several under-height bridges in the area that trucks frequently crash into; however, the videos became viral, and brought this particular bridge to international media attention, including front-page coverage in The Wall Street Journal, and on an episode of the Comedy Central television show Tosh.0.
- The American Association of State Highway Officials (1973). "1". STANDARD SPECIFICATIONS for HIGHWAY BRIDGES (PDF) (Eleventh ed.). Washington, D.C.: the Association General Offices. p. 12. Retrieved November 2, 2019.
By the Authority Vested By Part 5 of the United States Code § 552(a) and Part 1 of the Code of Regulations § 51 the attached document has been duly INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE and shall be considered legally binding upon all citizens and residents of the United States of America. HEED THIS NOTICE: Criminal penalties may apply for noncompliance.
- Gutierrez, Gabe (January 7, 2016). "This Bridge Continues Wreaking Havoc on Unsuspecting Truck Drivers". NBC Nightly News. NBC News. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
- Gibbs, Tamara (June 22, 2015). "Trucks Hit Same Durham Bridge Hours Apart". Eyewitness News. Durham, NC: WTVD-TV. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
- Mitchell, David (April 12, 2013). "Video: Trucks Smash into Bridge Time After Time After Time". Denver: KDVR-TV. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
- Krueger, Sarah (October 21, 2019). "Durham's 'can opener bridge' being raised". WRAL.com. Capitol Broadcasting Company. Archived from the original on October 23, 2019. Retrieved October 23, 2019.
- Robertson, Gary D. (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.
- Williams, Chris (July 8, 2016). "Truck Slams Into Durham's 'Can Opener' Bridge Despite New Warning System". Spectrum News. Time Warner Cable. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
- West, Matthew (March 27, 2014). Traffic Separation Study (TSS) (Report). City of Durham, North Carolina. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
- "Another Truck Slams Into Durham Bridge, Gets Stuck". Eyewitness News. Durham, NC: WTVD-TV. August 6, 2015. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
- "Tractor-trailer hits Roxboro Street bridge in Durham". Raleigh, NC: WRAL-TV. December 9, 2014. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
- Hyland, Michael (October 21, 2019). "Durham's infamous 'can opener' bridge to be raised". CBS17. Archived from the original on November 1, 2019. Retrieved October 31, 2019.
- Cohen, Ben (January 6, 2016). "The Joys of Watching a Bridge Shave the Tops off Trucks". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
- Hartness, Erin (March 18, 2009). "Man's videos span year of trucks hitting Durham bridge". Raleigh, NC: WRAL-TV. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
- 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.
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