Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Truckers squeezing through

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A city dump truck hit the rail overpass on McPhillips Street Monday, the latest in a series of similar accidents at that location during the last decade. Fortunately, no one was injured, and an investigation will determine whether it was driver error or mechanical failure that caused the truck's box to be raised at the time of the collision.

It wasn't your typical truck-bridge pile up, but there have been enough of them in the city that it raises several questions about safety precautions for trucks going under bridges in the city and on major highways.

The maximum allowable vehicle height is 4.15 metres, according to the Manitoba Highway Traffic Act, but many underpasses in Winnipeg do not meet that standard. The McPhillips underpass, for example, offers just 3.9 metres of clearance, while the underpass at Main Street and Higgins Avenue is just 3.7 metres. Truckers with loads higher than 4.15 metres are required to get a permit.

The recommended guideline for new underpasses is five metres, or more for light structures, such as pedestrian overpasses.

Drivers are expected to consult the city's truck route map to ensure they don't try to squeeze through a low bridge, but mistakes happen and that's the problem.

Even newer bridges outside the city have been the subject of collisions, which is why the province introduced laser sensors in two locations. The sensors measure a truck's height as it approaches an underpass, flashing a warning if the truck is too high. Other cities have adopted similar technology, but Winnipeg apparently has only one location that alerts truckers they are approaching a low bridge -- on Assiniboine Avenue beneath the Midtown Bridge.

All underpasses post the clearance, which is fine when a trucker notices the sign, but a more robust warning system would add an extra layer of protection.

The driver ultimately is responsible for knowing the height of his load and the perils of the road, particularly in an old city like Winnipeg. The city, however, should consider additional measures to boost safety at some key locations, such as McPhillips and Main at Higgins.

A laser warning system might cost $250,000 per bridge, but it's a lot cheaper than rebuilding the road and the overpass.

So far no one has been killed in a truck-bridge collision in Winnipeg, but there have been multiple deaths in other cities.

The risks are high enough that there is no excuse for doing nothing.

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Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 16, 2012 A6

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