Hardly a week goes by that an over-height truck and a low-slung bridge on the Merritt Parkway have a close encounter of the worst kind:  a collision.

The King Street bridge in Greenwich has been hit 150 times in the last decade, 24 times last year alone.  Despite $1.8 million in warning devices installed to prevent these strikes, they keep happening.

All of the bridges on the Merritt Parkway, originally built to a minimum standard of 11 feet at the abutments, are too low for trucks.  In some places the bridges are even lower due to roadbed re-grading. The road just wasn’t designed for anything but passenger cars.

Trucks aren’t the only vehicles banned from the parkways.  So too are RV’s, cars towing trailers, buses, hearses (in funeral processions) and all commercial vehicles. That includes any vehicle with advertising or logos on it, even passenger cars with “Combi” (combination passenger and commercial) plates.

But we know those trucks are there.  We see them all the time.  So why aren’t they getting ticketed?

The CT State Police tell me it’s an issue of priorities.  They only have two troopers patrolling the Merritt Parkway per shift and their hands are full handling speeders, traffic accidents, drug busts etc.  But they still manage to issue a few tickets per shift to the illicit truckers.

Jim Cameron

The problem is, it’s only a $92 ticket for violating the prohibited vehicles warning signs at every entrance.  That’s not much of a deterrent.  A bill last year to raise that penalty to $500 never made it to a vote in the legislature.

The old “Prohibited” signs were hardly noticeable and were wordy and confusing.  So CDOT has just changed out all the signs to something simpler, more colorful and attention-getting.  Maybe they’ll help.

But even where more sophisticated warning systems employing lasers, blaring horns and flashing lights are in place, bridges still get struck. Blame the drivers.

Many drivers say their GPS for directing them onto the parkways, so some insurance companies are offering financial incentives for fleet owners who use “smart GPS” designed for commercial drivers which will warn drivers of over-height vehicles to stay away.  But if you’re using a regular GPS unit or an app like WAZE, you’re out of luck.

When a truck does strike a bridge there are consequences.  In addition to often ripping the roof off the vehicle, the troopers also call in their Truck Squad which can issue thousands of dollars in fines if they find other violations regarding the weight of the vehicle, the driver’s log etc.

And as with motor vehicle accidents on any state road, if you damage one of the Merritt Parkway’s historic bridges or knock over a sign, your insurance company is going to pay.

Usually, when an over-height truck strikes one of the Merritt’s 40 concrete underpasses, the truck loses.  But any damage to these historic bridges, many of them recently restored, can take months to get repaired — not to mention the incredible backups and delays from these accidents.

When the Merritt Parkway opened in 1940, the speed limit was 40 mph and it was designed to carry 18,000 vehicles a day.  These days, outside of the bumper-to-bumper rush hours, the average speed is 73 mph and the parkway handles 90,000 vehicles per day. That’s enough.

We must reject continuing efforts to open this scenic byway to trucks. They just don’t belong there.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media. Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.

Jim Cameron | Columnist

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. He writes a weekly column called "Talking Transportation" for CT Mirror and other publications in the state. Read past Talking Transportation columns here. Contact Jim at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.

Join the Conversation

14 Comments

  1. This issue could easily have been handled by tolls. Simply charge any type of truck a very high toll, like several hundred dollars for each and every violation. In fact, even now we could use toll technology to automatically assess penalties for every violation – just don’t call them tolls. Simply call them “fines” for violating the law and increase them for every violation!

    1. No, the point is that the Merritt was not designed or built for trucks or commercial traffic or any other vehicle over a certain height. It’s only two lanes, there’s no breakdown lane, and the bridges are too low. Tolls can’t fix that.

      1. That is my point too. If the police can’t/aren’t going to enforce the law, it can be enforced by automatic and increasing fines.

  2. I totally agree with Mr Cameron’s position on this issue.
    Now. If he can just agree with me on the topic of increasing train fares for Rowayton, Darien, Noroton Heights, Stamford, Old Greenwich, Riverside, Cos Cob and Greenwich. I think the Average Income of these residents, justifies they fund needed rail transportation upgrades through fare increases.

    1. He should agree with you, but he probably won’t. He wants drivers on Ct’s highways to pay his pet new tax for driving (tolls) so money can go to the rail improvements you mention. Along with that he supports calling those driving taxes “user fees.”

      You’re right about train riders’ average incomes. UConn’s 2016 study showed how high they are – 30% over $250,000, in 2016 dollars.

  3. Here’s an inexpensive solution: over each entry ramp to the Merritt, install a bar across the road at the height of the next bridge. Offending trucks will crash there, instead of at the bridge itself, the damage to public property will be minimal, and the only traffic backup will be on that entry ramp instead of the main roadway.

    1. What a wonderful idea!!! If I may, I’d like to propose an amendment: two entrance ramps, one marked “cars” and one marked “trucks”, each with the same bar you suggested. That way, if a truck crashes there, cars can still get on the Merritt.

      1. Nice thought, but where on the Merritt is there enough right-of-way space to permit 2 separate entrance ramps?

      2. Unfortunately, we don’t have either the money or the available land to build additional entrance ramps for trucks, and they don’t belong there anyway. BTW, my suggestion isn’t new, but it’s apparently been rejected by Merritt Parkway purists.

  4. “Trucks aren’t the only vehicles banned from the parkways. So too are … passenger cars with “Combi” (combination passenger and commercial) plates.”

    Perhaps Cameron should examine the sign image a bit more closely – the only prohibited vehicles with “Comb” plates are those with a GVW over 7,500 lbs.

    My Tacoma pickup has “Comb” plates and is less than 7,500 GVW. I have traveled the Merritt numerous times and have never been pulled over as a result of my “Comb” plates.

  5. anyone who blindly (so to speak) believes their GPS is lazy & dumb. In New London a few years ago someone actually drove up a stone staircase because his GPS said to, thereby destroying his car. You have eyes for a reason – use them.

    1. The reliance on GPS is slowly destroying peoples’ ability to develop a sense of direction. At least for those who are capable of developing one. They are handy devices for going into a new area, but they are not substitute for common sense and careful driving. I still like to scout a new area on a map to get a general sense of where I’m going.

  6. No one wants to do their jobs. To say that police can’t do their jobs is a lie— ask taxpayers if they will pay more taxes for stringent enforcement of laws and I guarantee that the majority will vote YES.
    ENforce the laws!!!

Leave a comment
Cancel reply