A bridge too low, a trucker too late, a crash too often

A bridge too low, a trucker too late, a crash too often

CHAMPAIGN — A couple weeks ago, when a semitrailer collided with the Springfield Avenue viaduct, Isis Griffin could hear it in her popcorn shop next door.

"It was loud enough for us to hear even with our machines being on," said Griffin, one of the owners of Cool Bliss Popped Bliss Popcorn Shop. "I can't remember if there's been a month where there hasn't been a truck that hasn't been stuck."

With Green Street under construction, much of the traffic has been diverted to Springfield Avenue, making this a particularly bad spot for truck-viaduct accidents.

There have been six at the Springfield viaduct this year, all since May 26, up from two last year and one in 2015.

Since the beginning of 2012, there have been 41 viaduct accidents, with one at Logan Street, 11 at Springfield, 14 at Washington Street and 15 at Green Street.

When trucks collide with the viaduct, it ties up traffic for hours.

The one a couple weeks ago took about two-and-a-half hours to clear, according to Taylor Feldkamp, manager at Feldkamps Towing, and that was a quick one because the truck was mostly empty.

"Three hours is a short one," Feldkamp said. "We've been there up to six hours. When it's fully loaded with produce, you have to unbox it and put it on another trailer."

The driver may be issued a traffic citation, though Champaign Police Sgt. Thomas Frost said the driver's company is typically sent a bill for the damage and cleanup.

Based on police reports of accidents that happened this year, the drivers in these crashes usually say they didn't notice the clearance signs.

In one incident, the driver said he was unfamiliar with the area and was distracted when another car cut him off before the viaduct. In another, the driver said his GPS sent him under the Springfield viaduct and he didn't notice the problem until it was too late.

Typical semitrailers are 13 feet, 6 inches tall, and the viaduct at Washington Street is only 10-3, at Springfield Avenue only 11-10, and at Green Street only 11-11.

Meanwhile, at the University Avenue viaduct, where there haven't been any collisions since 2012, there's 14 feet, 3 inches of clearance.

"The driver needs to be trained on how not to get lost," said Sherry Jenkins, a truck driving instructor for 160 Driving Academy who has logged 1.6 million accident-free miles. "And if it says 12-2, don't go under it."

Besides more training and paying attention, Jenkins said there are some other steps drivers, trucking companies and municipalities could take to reduce the number of viaduct collisions.

Drivers should use a GPS made specifically for truck driving, she said.

"Drivers have to use a truck-driver GPS, not a car GPS, because low bridges are posted on that," she said. "Rand McNally and Garmin both publish and sell trucker-driver GPSes. Most trucks use those. If they're smart, they do."

Trucking companies also need to send their drivers better directions that avoid low viaducts, Jenkins said, especially since some drivers might not be familiar with the area.

"If there's a low bridge on that route, the company needs to send directions to come in from a different way," she said.

She also encouraged municipalities to post more signs directing truckers to viaducts with enough clearance.

Along Neil Street, signs already do this, noting the low clearance before reaching Springfield Avenue. And at the Washington and Green Street viaducts, flashing lights accompany the low clearance signs.

The city doesn't own the road under the Springfield Avenue viaduct, since it's a state route. The Illinois Department of Transportation said it is looking into low-cost improvements to reduce the number of accidents.

At the Green Street viaduct, there haven't been any accidents this year, since it's been under construction as part of the Multimodal Corridor Enhancement (MCORE) project.

This project will add 3 inches of clearance, still not tall enough for most trucks.

It couldn't have been lowered any more than that, said Chris Sokolowski, assistant city engineer.

"Lowering the street any more would have resulted in significant impacts to large diameter storm sewers leading to the Healey Street detention basin and other various underground utilities such as sanitary sewer mains and water mains," he said.

Canadian National, which owns the actual viaduct structures, did not respond to questions about the collisions.

Crash, boom, bang
Viaduct accidents in Champaign the last six years:
2012: Two
2013: Six
2014: Twelve
2015: Nine
2016: Six
2017: Six


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whatithink wrote on September 17, 2017 at 7:09 am

It's not the municipalities fault by any means.  These are clearly marked and if a truck driver crashes into it, they should lose their CDL!  It's one of the drivers first responsibilities to know their height.  The instructor should spend more time teaching this!    Plus this keeps the local towing companies busy and I hope the charge extra for this stupidity!

RatDog wrote on September 17, 2017 at 10:09 am

The city of Champaign needs better truck routes. There is a partial truck route on southbound Neil st that directs a driver to State Street. Then nothing. The truck route needs to be delineated from all directions to direct drivers under the University bridge. The drivers are ultimately at fault but the city is also culpable. 

pattsi wrote on September 17, 2017 at 10:09 am

Points well taken by the first two posts. When the MCORE project began, I contact city of Champaign Public Works Department to inquire if the multiplicity of signing at the corner of Springfield and Neil would be cleared up, made easier to discern and add instructional signs related to using Springfield rather than Green. The usual response was sent to me. Springfiled, known as state route 10, is not under the city jurisdiction. We all know this. The larger questions to posit--exactly under what circumstances can the city and state begin to collarborate toward clarity of road signing, especially for a 3-year project as is the case with MCORE?

cjw61822@hotmail.com wrote on September 17, 2017 at 11:09 am

In other news dog bites man.  This is a non story that has been going oni for nearly 50 yrs.  Years ago, IDOT put up flashing yellow lights onthe bridge to warn truckers that their was a low bridge.  CN had them take them down.   There is signage that any idiot can read but they do not.  My suggestion again is to put a solar powered yellow light and sign on the right of way adjacent to the bridge that would warn that it is a low bridge.........


It is not  all  the truck drivers fault............ it is the dispatchers fault for putting them on these roads.  They are simply following what their dispatcher has told them to do.  Neil to Springfield  Springfield to Wright  Wright to University.  University to I74

Silence Dogood II wrote on September 17, 2017 at 11:09 am

Not saying that this would prevent anything because sometimes, you just cannot fix "you-know-what." However, how difficult would it be for IDOT or USDOT to pick another end of the box? As in, just maybe redesignating University as US45/US150 rather than the current route of using Springfield? That has ALWAYS made me scratch my head for at least the past two decades. 

wayward wrote on September 17, 2017 at 10:09 pm

What about something harmless but loud that will warn drivers with vehicles that are too tall, e.g. http://www.al.com/news/mobile/index.ssf/2014/06/bankhead_tunnel_height_c... . Basically, if your truck hits the plastic things dangling from the top, it will hit the bridge? It would be really interesting if they could add sensors that would cause lights to flash when contact was made.

TWade wrote on September 18, 2017 at 8:09 am

Come on, stop making excuses for these drivers that failed to do their job. GPS is a sorry excuse at its best, in a hurry is not an excuse, it's more like you saying I'm a very gullible driver that allow others to tell me how to drive my truck, and a car cut me off so I hit a bridge with large low clearance signs. These are excuses that should send all of these drivers back to mandatory truck driving schools for idiots.

Silence Dogood II wrote on September 18, 2017 at 2:09 pm

Okay, I guess I will press the "solve-all" button: dig the roads two feet deeper. Elminiate the low clearance and you elminate the problem. That is unless of course the residents and their local government enjoy this continual bi-monthly headache.These incidents do actually give cleanup companies some business so I guess it's a matter of sacrifice either way; time or money. Regardless, as is, the incidents will keep happening. Many of the incidents occur from out-of-towner's who are unfamiliar with our roads. Being next to busy traffic lights and endless pedestrians, it's only totally obvious that someone will eventually not mentally register this warning until it's too late. Especially when you are following your directions on your Qualcomm or OBC and you see the sign for US45 and US150 and after that turn to the East, you're done and stuck. As for the comment of  "losing your CDL," it actually does happen and even moreso, the driver will more than likely be terminated and the low-clearance incident put on his/her DAC report which pretty much blakclists that driver from getting a job with a good, reputable company for several years. So that driver in many cases has to go to a local mom and pop operation and I'm sorry if this is offensive however, safety is a shortcut that smaller companies take all the time. But the driver still has a family to feed as well. So the blacklisted driver starts driving and hauls around that trailer that has not had a REAL maintenance inspection/repair or PM in many years and the next thing you know, you have loose u-bolts and 22.5" semitrailer wheels flying off the trailer at 70+ mph. Yea, I've been in those shoes before; it's not fun for anyone. Or how about spread axle trailer compartments that dont shut nicely and without a headache rack, those flatbed chains have to go somewhere. A farmer was nice enough to get my attention to tell me that ALL 10 of my chains were scattered all up and down SR-1 on my way to Marshal, IL. I'm glad they did not fling through anyone's windshield at 55 mph. But I had a 3 year old kid at the time and I needed to support my family too. I did what I could with the resources I had at the time which was a CDL at 25 years old. So go ahead and blacklist that driver; there's a safety-shortcutting mom and pop operation somewhere with that driver's name allllll over it.