GAZETTE ARCHIVES: Other Iowa City railroad bridge crashes on Iowa Avenue

John McGlothlen
Published: August 20 2009 | 10:46 am - Updated: 30 March 2014 | 8:03 am in

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THE GAZETTE

05/04/1997

Even chains can't help on Iowa Avenue

Eye on Iowa City

JOHNSON COUNTY TODAY

By Lyle Muller

Gazette bureau chief

IOWA CITY - Those big chains hanging over Iowa Avenue by the University of Iowa's English-Philosophy Building are supposed to stop people driving tall trucks from hitting the nearby railroad bridge.

Nice idea. It took an entire week for someone to ignore the "tattletale" chains and hit the bridge's span with an oversized truck.

It happened last Wednesday, one week to the day after the chains were hung. Michael Albert, 28, of Alexandria, Minn., struck the bridge about 8:30 a.m. with the 1994 GMC Ryder rental van he was

driving.

That makes 14 people since 1987 who have hit the bridge with oversized vehicles, city traffic department records show.

"I don't know if I'd use the word 'surprised.' Puzzled, maybe," city Traffic Engineer Jim Brachtel says about the bridge's storied history of too-tall trucks getting stuck.

"It puzzles me when folks run into something like that," he says. "I don't think there's any foolproof system, unfortunately."

BRACHTEL'S department has tried to find a way, however. Over the years it has installed several signs warning of the bridge's 10-foot, 5-inch clearance. Four yellow signs on posts and another on the bridge warn eastbound motorists of the clearance. Five of the signs on posts warn westbound motorists.

Lowering the road beneath the bridge has not been an option because of how close the bridge is to the Iowa River. Raising the bridge would cost too much, city engineers concluded.

Using an electric eye on the side of the road to set off an alarm or warning lights on the bridge would not work, either. There is not enough room so that the drivers could stop in time, engineers figured.

Chains had been discussed, too. On Wednesday, April 23, the city hung them from poles above the eastbound and westbound lanes leading to the bridge. Twenty-five chains hang from each pole.

The chains and poles cost about $6,800, Brachtel says. The Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Railway Co. (CRANDIC) agreed two years ago to pay up to $6,000 of the costs so it will get a bill, Brachtel says.

CRANDIC's interest is clear: It owns the rail line and bridge.

Albert was not injured when he hit the bridge. The collision caused $2,000 damage to the van but the bridge was not damaged, police said. Albert failed to heed the warning signs and chains but no charges were filed, a police report on the accident said.

His situation is a common one for people who hit the bridge, says police Sgt. James Steffen. Most of the drivers are using rental vehicles and do not know how tall the vehicles are, or are from out of town, he says.

Still, if all those signs don't register, you would think a bank of 25 chains scraping across the top of your truck would serve as some kind of clue.

"I don't know what else can be done," Steffens says. "People have to take responsibility for their own actions."

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Related today: Iowa Avenue closed eastbound in Iowa City

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