TUSSLE WITH THE TRESTLE

Earlier this year, on February 4th, a heavy BOOM [the kind you can both hear and feel] caused some considerable alarm in the Callowhill neighborhood—and rightly so. A large construction vehicle hitching a ride on the trailer bed of a truck along Callowhill Street didn’t quite make it under the clearance of the City Branch bridge over Callowhill. This major fail in the game of urban infrastructure limbo resulted in an impressive dent in one of the girders and did a real number on the catwalk on the east side of the bridge structure.

The offending vehicle [left] did visible damage to the City Branch bridge overpass [right]. Photos: John Struble.

We reported the situation and larger issue to Curbed Philly, posted February 6th:

“It's not uncommon that trucks get stuck on Callowhill because they're too tall to make the clearance under the two trestles. Most of the time, truck drivers realize they're not going to make it once they get to 11th Street, and are forced to back up on Callowhill more than a block against traffic (a tricky job for a big rig!) because the elevated rail line also goes over 11th, which is one-way going north.
Every now and then, a truck gets wedged under one of the two bridges, which has caused some damage over time. But this accident yesterday has definitely left a much more visible bruise—in fact much more than a bruise—on the City Branch Bridge.
I would expect a big part of the problem is signage. For one, the clearance signs are easy to miss. Also, as Callowhill is a one-way west-bound street, trucks first encounter the 9th Street Branch trestle, which has a 13'2" clearance sign posted (albeit at an angle that preferences views from north-bound traffic on 11th), but trucks who are able to pass underneath the 9th Street Branch then encounter the City Branch bridge 200 feet later, which only has a clearance of 12'11" (which is also posted). So, it's possible that trucks see the first clearance sign and think it applies to both. Who knows—maybe they think they can just squeak under.
These bridges were constructed at a time long before freight trucking became such a large part of transportation and logistics and at a time when trucks were nowhere near the heights they are now—modern-day freight trucks are typically around 13' to 13'6". The current day clearance standard for bridges constructed over the Interstate System is a minimum of 14 feet in urban areas.
I think this unfortunate accident points to the great need for improved truck signage in order to prevent further damage to the historic trestles. Highly visible signage should alert truck drivers to the upcoming bridge clearances before they get to 10th Street, which would give them the opportunity to choose a different route before it's too late.”

 

The damaged City Branch overpass at Callowhill circled above.  

New clearance signage on 10th Street north of Callowhill. 

New clearance signage on 10th Street north of Callowhill. 

We also flagged the accident and problematic lack of clearance signage to our pal Ariel Ben-Amos at the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities [MOTU], who reached out to the Philadelphia Streets Department, and—lo and behold—today we have new signage in the neighborhood directing truck traffic that won’t make clearance away from the Rail Park bridge overpasses. Thank you, MOTU and Streets!

We hope the clearance signage will prevent further damage to the bridges and help preserve the character and integrity of these structures for future reuse as part of Philadelphia’s Rail Park!

Read more at Curbed Philly.