Beware of Low Bridges: aka Fifth Wheel Owner Loses AC Unit

Do you think you can make it? RV owners, bus drivers, and over-the-road truck-drivers have a few things in common. They are all responsible for maneuvering a larger-than-typical vehicle down the road. Many of them have had a harrowing hairpin turn to negotiate, and they often dealing with drivers of smaller cars failing to leave enough room for their mammoth vehicles to maneuver.

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With the additional challenges of a big rig, these drivers are often more in-tune with their rigs and aware of their surroundings. After all, it can mean the difference between life and death—or at least extensive, expensive property damage. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Occasionally, a daring, reckless, or oblivious driver will do something that defies logic. Take for example the following fiasco that combines a low overpass with an unfortunate fifth-wheel RV. First, it is important to understand a few basic facts that are pertinent to the tale.

Minimal Vertical Clearance

There are different standards for the required height of overpasses. These are determined by what vehicles are expected to travel under them. To ensure that most large rigs, such as commercial trucks, can continue safely and conveniently to their destinations, U.S. interstate highways require a minimal vertical clearance of at least 16 feet.

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In urban areas, there must be at least one route to typical terminals that meets this minimum height. Other urban overpasses have to be no less than 14 feet high. This is commonly understood.

Exceptions to the Minimal Vertical Clearance for Low Bridges

In less populated places, these clearances are not always met. In rural areas, small towns, and even in some older urban areas, train trestles and other low bridges still overshadow passing traffic.

When an overpass is lower than the expected height, they sport flashing lights or at least a posted sign proclaiming their low clearance. This is to warn oncoming traffic so drivers of large vehicles can assess the situation and ask themselves, “Can I make it?”

The Threat of Durham, North Carolina

One stealthy railroad trestle bridge residing in Durham, North Carolina has become the thing legends are made of. This menacing overpass looms a mere 11-feet 8-inches over the road beneath. It has been the bane of many a powerless traveler’s journey. Many have incurred significant damage to their rigs from driving under the bridge.

The Hapless Fifth-wheel Driver

This is a perfect example of someone who either wasn’t paying attention, or didn’t fully know his or her trailer’s dimensions. The fifth-wheel RV itself was able to pass underneath.

Unfortunately, the low height didn’t accommodate the costly rooftop air-conditioner. Maybe you think the bridge was improperly marked to warn of the prohibitive clearance? This was not the case, as you can see in this video.

Municipally Provided Warnings

The good City of Dunham appears to have done everything in its power to warn passersby. First, they have posted “low clearance” signs on the three blocks leading to the bridge. They lowered the speed limit to 25mph to ensure drivers have plenty of time to assess the situation and correct their route. Lastly, they even installed an “over height when flashing” sign that signals drivers that their vehicle exceeds the height and will not be able to pass.

Compilation Video

The following was a video compiled by Durham resident Jurgen Henn from some of the many accidents perpetrated by this bridge.

Mr. Henn maintains a website called 11Foot8 were he regularly posts his videos.

In Conclusion

At over 100 years old, the railroad bridge that passes through Durham was built before contemporary restrictions on minimum height were developed. The railroad owns the track; the N.C.D.O.T maintains the road, and the city provides the signage. With all of the varying interests and red tape involved, it is unlikely that any major changes will happen to this bridge in the near future.

Please share this with any and all friends who enjoy the misfortunes of others or have experience with low bridges themselves. Also, if you are traveling in a large rig, look out for low clearance signs. Do you think you can make it?

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