At 11 foot 8 inches [sic], the Norfolk Southern-Gregson Street Overpass, located in Durham, [NC] […], is a bit too short. The federal government recommends that bridges on public roads should have a clearance of at least 14 feet [but], when this railroad trestle was built in the 1940s, there were no standards for minimum clearance. As a result, trucks would frequently hit the bridge and get its roof scrapped [sic] off.
Durhan resident Jürgen Henn has been witnessing these crashes for years from across the street where he worked. Wishing to share these hilarious mishaps with the rest of the world, Henn set up a video camera in April 2008 and began recording them for his ever popular website 11foot8.com. By the end of 2015, more than one hundred trucks had their tops violently ripped off. These scalping videos, which are also available on his YouTube Channel, have racked up millions of views bringing this particular bridge, nicknamed “the can opener”, a fair amount of international fame.
As Jürgen Henn explains in his website [sic], the bridge cannot be raised because doing so would require the tracks to be raised for several miles to adjust the incline. North Carolina Railroad doesn’t want to pay for the enormous expense it would entail. The bridge cannot be lowered either because there is a major sewer line running only four feet under the street.
Instead, the city authorities installed an alert system that detects when an over-height truck tries to pass under and flashes yellow warning lights several feet ahead of the bridge. [However], many drivers either do not pay attention or fail to heed the warning and crash into the bridge. The railroad department, who owns the bridge, installed a heavy steel crash beam in front of the bridge that takes most of the impact, protecting the actual structure of the train trestle. This crash beam is hit so often that it had to be replaced at least once.
As far as both parties are concerned, the city of Durham and North Carolina Railroad, adequate steps have been taken to solve the problem. The railroad authorities’ concern is with the bridge and the rails above, not the trucks, [hence], the beam. The city, on the other hand, has posted prominent “low clearance” signs from [three] blocks away, leading up to the trestle, over and above the automatic warning system that is triggered by vehicles that are too tall. Apparently, these measures are not enough to prevent accidents. On average there is one crash every month.
When Henn interviewed a few drivers as they deflated their tires to lower their vehicles enough to free them, some told him that they didn’t know their trucks’ heights, while others insisted they didn’t see the signs. Durham officials are now trying out a new tactic. A few months ago, they installed a traffic signal at the intersection before the bridge and hooked up the height sensor to it. When an over-height truck approaches the intersection, the light turns red and stays red for a long time. The light eventually turns green but, the city hopes that the long delay will give the drivers enough time to realize their truck will not fit under the bridge. Unfortunately for the drivers, and to the delight of the rest, the bridge continues to shave the tops of over-height vehicles.
The Infamous Can Opener Bridge
December 17, 2016
I can attest to this bridge, personally. I lived in Durham for two years in the middle 90s. Why those folks don’t turn off onto Peabody Street or Pettigrew Street, coming from the other side, I don’t know. They just plow right under it. It is right behind Brightleaf Square. ~Vic
♦ 11 Feet, 8 Inches… (99% Invisible/Kurt Kohlstedt/08-29-2016)
♦ Durham’s Bridge of Death Will Decapitate Any Tall Truck (Bloomberg/John Metcalfe/10-25-2012)
♦ Trucks Have Hit This Low Bridge More Than 100 Times… (Vox/Timothy B. Lee/01-06-2016)
♦ A Little Off The Top… (Indy Week/Danny Hooley/01-06-2016)
♦ Norfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass (Wikipedia)
Compilation of Crashes
While many folks are suffering from the damage brought about by Hurricane Dorian, including my own state, twenty-three years ago, today, another hurricane made landfall between 7:17 & 9:03pm EDT…Hurricane Fran. The eye passed over Bald Head Island and Southport.
Fran was the second hurricane to slam into the North Carolina coast in the same season. Bertha was a Category 2 hurricane when she hit just two months earlier. There wasn’t much time to recover from the first disaster before the second hit.
Due to a low pressure centered over Tennessee and the western extension of the subtropical ridge over the northwest Atlantic, Fran was steered onto a north-northwesterly track and gained speed. Moving around 17 mph, the center of Fran made landfall over the Cape Fear area on September 5th around 8:30 p.m., just southwest of Wilmington. At landfall, sustained winds were 115 mph […].
Fran caused major flooding from North Carolina to Maryland [to] West Virginia. The damage from Fran was so extensive that the name “Fran” was removed from the hurricane name list and replaced by Fay. North Carolina got the worst of the storm […]. The North Topsail Beach police station was washed away by a 12 foot storm surge. The police station was being temporarily housed in a double wide since Bertha wiped out the original building just a few months prior. Kure Beach Pier was destroyed along with the Emerald Isle fishing pier, while Bogue Inlet Pier lost 150 feet. Storm surge in North Topsail Beach created a 100-foot wide inlet. Topsail Island lost 40 feet of beach due to erosion. Swansboro and New Bern experienced 10 feet of storm surge […].
Hurricane force wind gusts were experienced as far inland as Raleigh. High winds damaged historical buildings. Classes at the University of North Carolina were canceled for a day and it was almost a week before the water was drinkable again. Strong winds and a saturated ground led to many trees being uprooted inland. This led to numerous houses being destroyed by trees falling on them. Over a million people were left without power. Almost two weeks after the storm, 150 secondary roads were still closed due to flooding and downed trees.
In the same way that residents of Columbia and Charlotte remember Hurricane Hugo‘s devastating inland winds, residents of Raleigh and most of the North Carolina inland coastal plain think back to Fran when discussing the strong wind a hurricane can bring well away from the coast. Fran was the worst storm to strike southeastern North Carolina since Hurricane Hazel in 1954.
My dad was nine years old when Hazel hit. He remembered being underneath his desk in elementary school. I was living in Durham when Fran hit. I thought the roof of the house was going to come off (I was living in an attic studio apartment on the west side of town, close to Duke Hospital and Duke University). That hurricane came straight up thru the middle of NC. Working in Law Enforcement, I was considered “necessary personnel” and when I got up to head in, Durham looked like a war zone. Interstate 85 was completely shut down and I wound my way thru town, west to east. Oh, the devastation. The Trooper Station I worked in had power but, my apartment went without for a week. I need to dig up the pictures of the damage and post them. They are in a box…somewhere. ~Vic