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  • Jessica Allen

11 Foot 8

On the quaint corner of South Gregson Street and West Peabody Street in Durham, North Carolina, older brick buildings are surrounded with lush green hedges neighboring the two moderately travelled roadways. The historic style buildings give off a feeling of old industry turned modern outdoor mall. The smell of pizza might be wafting through the air from the local pizzeria, and the soft chatter of students, travelers, and families may be heard. That is, if the chatter can be heard over the monthly screams of sheet metal being sheared off the tops of trucks by a giant I-Beam spanning Gregson Street. This intersection, while being the home of the old-industrial charm, is also home to the locally-infamous 11 Foot 8 bridge. Nearly 100 years ago, the North Carolina Railroad Company built a train trestle over South Gregson Street, and at the time, 11’ 8” was a perfectly reasonable height to build a bridge over a road; large vehicles, trucks, RVs, and the standards for bridges such as the 11 Foot 8 hadn’t quite been developed yet. Today, however, it is not uncommon for vehicles to be much taller than 11’8”, which posed a problem for the railroad company, who had to keep fixing massive structural damage from tall trucks hitting the low clearance bridge. After many accidents and multiple warning signs, flashing lights, and overhead signs being hung with seemingly no impact whatsoever, the next solution is as entertaining to watch as it is dangerous (and maybe not the best way to handle the situation).

The railroad company installed a large steel beam at a height of 11’8” a few feet before the bridge. When a truck that is over the maximum height goes through the intersection, not heeding the multiple flashing lights and warning signs, the top of the truck gets demolished, in some cases like the top of a tin can being peeled back, and other times crunching the front/top of the truck so badly the only option is to back up through the intersection and shamefully look at the warning signs a second time before taking the provided detour. The bridge is left unharmed, and has saved the company an incredible amount of money on repairs, seeing as the bridge is hit nearly once per month on average. The North Carolina Department of Transportation and the North Carolina Railroad Company have recently worked together to create an early warning system that includes a height-sensor and a traffic light. The sensor will detect if a vehicle is too tall to clear the bridge (and the beam) and will turn a traffic light red as well as display an ‘over-large’ sign that declares the vehicle unfit to pass the bridge. The driver will hopefully be alerted by the sign and light and will then take the detour, and save the bridge as well as the top of the truck. Not all accidents have been stopped, but as the two organizations work together, this intersection becomes more safe to traverse. More information can be found at the 11 Foot 8 website. Picture from: -Jessica Allen

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