The city of Delaware is known as the birthplace of the 19th president of the United States — Rutherford B. Hayes — and home of the Little Brown Jug harness race, but in recent years, locals have grown quite fond of another Delaware hallmark — the West Central Avenue railroad overpass.
While nothing stands out visually about the overpass besides the large yellow signs affixed to both sides warning drivers of the “12 FT 7 IN” low clearance, the overpass has quite the reputation for wreaking havoc on vehicles and trailers that dare pass under without the proper height clearance.
Dubbed the “Can Opener” by locals due to the overpass’ uncanny ability to open trailers by peeling back the tops, the overpass has been met with little resistance over the past several years, claiming nearly 20 victims since 2015, two of which took place last month.
Like good, old fashioned can openers that are becoming obsolete thanks to pull-tab cans, Delaware officials are hopeful new technology will have the same impact on the city’s “Can Opener.”
Over the past several months, crews have installed a large black pole and large message board on both sides of the overpass for a new laser-guided over-height detection system that was put into operation recently.
Community Affairs Coordinator Lee Yoakum said the city worked diligently over the past two years to find the most efficient solution to the low-clearance overpass, and ultimately, officials decided on state-of-the-art technology new to the state of Ohio.
“(The project) was delayed a bit because nothing like this had been done in Ohio, and, understandably, there were a few more issues that needed to be resolved and questions that needed to be answered,” Yoakum said.
Despite a price tag of $180,000, all of which was funded through a grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Improvement Program, the new technology is far from foolproof.
“This is not a 100 percent solution for inattentive truck drivers not doing their most important jobs,” Yoakum said. “It is a way to reduce the number of incidents at the bridge, and that is a good thing for neighbors who are inconvenienced, motorists who are delayed, and city departments who can focus on other services.”
When drivers ignore the warning signs and end up striking the bridge or need assistance with turning their vehicle around on one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, it requires the City of Delaware Police Department to dispatch several officers to the scene. The exact number of officers tied up following incidents at the “Can Opener” varies based on a variety of factors.
“(The number) depends on the time of day, amount of damage to the vehicle, traffic conditions, etc., but generally, two to three officers that otherwise could be doing something else in our city,” Yoakum said.
How it works, goals for the system
While the two message boards are hard for drivers to miss as they make their way down West Central Avenue, the laser beam apparatuses that detect over-height vehicles are a little harder to spot.
Yoakum said the sensors are located approximately 900 feet before each bridge entrance — the eastbound beam near the entrance to OhioHealth Grady Memorial Hospital and the westbound beam near Euclid Avenue.
If the laser sensor is tripped, the message board on that side of the bridge will first flash “WARNING” before displaying “OVERHEIGHT VEHICLE DETECTED.”
“These messages will alternate back and forth every two seconds and last for three minutes,” Yoakum said. “When not activated, the warning sign is black.”
City officials hope the new detection system will help achieve the following:
• Get drivers to turn around
• Prevent high-speed impacts that destroy trailers
• Reduce city effort in incident cleanup
“Reducing the number of bridge incidents — even a small amount — allows the police department to focus on other duties in and around the city,” Yoakum said. “It is important to note that other city departments are impacted when the bridge is hit. Public Works Department staff are often called in to help maintain traffic flow and with cleanup. The cost to the city each time the bridge is struck can run $2,000 to $3,000 for manpower and equipment.”
Yoakum added the technology the city has turned to is used in several other states. After speaking with officials in those states — New York, Texas and Virginia — city officials believe the new detection system will “reduce bridge incidents by 50 to 60 percent.”
Contact Joshua Keeran at 740-413-0900. Like The Delaware Gazette on Facebook.