A Bridge Too Low
The NJ Transit railroad bridge that passes over Front Street is a constant source of traffic trouble as an estimated 12 trucks get stuck under it each year.
For some reason it's become a regular theme in Red Bank. A truck too tall meets a bridge too low.
Conventional wisdom says take the safe route. Pay heed to posted signs, recognize your surroundings - and the steel girders that really do just seem a smidge too low anyway - and turn around to find another way. Along the Front Street bridge, however, practical advice doesn't seem to go a long way. Call it inexperience, call it stupidity, but when it comes to trucks getting stuck under the railroad bridge that crosses Front Street, it's hardly a rare occurrence.
According to Capt. Darren McConnell, Red Bank police have recorded 40 separate incidents of vehicles getting stuck under the Front Street bridge since 2009. That's an average of about a dozen a year. The excuses are varied, he said. Some drivers are novices, unaware of how tall their vehicle is. Other drivers are from out of town, following navigation systems all the way until they're stuck and red-faced under the bridge, the top layer of their truck sheared off and laying in a streak of crumbled debris along the roadway.
If a solution exists, other than hoping truck drivers think twice before plowing their vehicle into the bridge undeterred, it has yet to be realized. Borough officials have raised concerns to the county, which maintains the road and Front Street bridge, the county has raised concerns to NJ Transit, which owns and maintains the railroad, and NJ Transit in turn has bounced it back down to the county, effectively telling local officials to find their own solution.
In the meantime trucks continue to get stuck, the most recent one as of last week, and as the county and NJ Transit deflect responsibility, it's Red Bank left to clean up the mess.
"We have been in contact with Monmouth County and NJ Transit as recently as last month trying to come up with a solution," McConnell said in an email. "The area is heavily signed and signaled with the overheight notices, but as you can see we still have a lot of crashes. In addition, we respond to at least as many misplaced trucks that need assistance turning around or backing up, each of which also delays traffic considerably."
Though police calls to help assist truck drivers maneuver away from the bridge aren't documented, the crashes are. In 2009 and 2010 10 vehicles crashed into the low bridge. The number increased to 14 in 2011. Thus far it's happened 6 times in 2012, putting it right on pace to reach that dozen average.
Luckily, the accidents haven't hurt anyone seriously. In each of those 40 reported incidents, McConnell said only one driver reported minor injuries. The real cost comes in the form of damage to the truck, significant traffic delays, detours, cleanup and the waste of time associated with sending out a couple of officers to help oversee the resolution of something that shouldn't have happened to begin with.
The county's been mum on what it plans to do, if anything, to help resolve the situation. At a recent public meeting to discuss the Front Street bridge - also known as Hubbards Bridge - replacement, county engineer Joe Ettore said his office had reached out to NJ Transit to discuss the issue. The result of that effort is currently unknown, though based on a conversation with NJ Transit Spokeswoman Nancy Snyder, it's unlikely the county found the answer it was looking for.
Snyder said unequivocally that NJ Transit would not consider raising or augmenting its rail bridge in anyway, saying that such work would not only be expensive, but would cause significant impediments to travel along that rail line.
"Those tracks have been there for more than a hundred years," she said.
Possible solutions she said the county should consider is installing additional and more prominently displayed signage and lowering the roadway to help facilitate easier travel for larger vehicles. She made it clear that NJ Transit had no financial responsibility to help resolve the problem.
McConnell is hoping that the bridge replacement slated for the start of next year helps ease the problem. If the roadway can't be lowered, the new entrance to Front Street bridge should be wider and allow trucks to turn around more easily when they approach the rail bridge.
Until then, Red Bank's left to clean up the mess.