Opinion: Crashes at Long Grove bridge suggest something more important than an amusing dilemma
Yes, truck collisions with Long Grove's historic covered bridge has become something of a regional laughingstock. A rented school bus got stuck under the reconditioned bridge only a day after it reopened in August 2020, and since then, it's been hit 35 times.
For anyone counting that's an average of 1½ times a month.
At some point soon, it appears the structure will become less a quaintly nostalgic nod to a simpler time than a modern-day symbol of the convergence of human negligence with the onslaught of advanced technology.
One could almost feel Long Grove officials shrugging and smirking along with the rest of us as they reflected in an interview with our Steve Zalusky on the most recent collision a week and a half ago involving a U-Haul truck.
"Everyone likes to talk about it. It's unbelievable that the bridge cover has been struck that many times," Village President Bill Jacob told Zalusky.
And village Trustee Chris Borawski added that the bridge was thoughtfully engineered to withstand the force of a truck hitting the structure at 20 miles per hour.
Both officials, and many others in the past, noted the crashes have not posed any financial hardship for the village, and for that, as well as the general lack of personal injury, we're all thankful. Officials have also -- and again reasonably -- emphasized the many steps taken to dissuade drivers from trying to cross the bridge with vehicles too tall for the 8½-foot clearance.
But the frequency of these incidents suggests they deserve more than passing attention, and Long Grove officials have taken the issue seriously. In addition to an impressive array of lights and signs on both approaches to the bridge, they're considering optical sensors that trigger alarms to get drivers' attention, height-guard bars and laser signals. They've also worked with mapping software companies to try to get them to quit routing traffic through the village as a shortcut between routes 83 and 53.
These are all responses worthy of study and hopefully one or all of them will eventually help. But they also raise a more troubling problem, one that perhaps no amount of electronic hand-waving and jumping up and down can overcome and one that deserves the attention of all of us drivers, regardless of the road we're on or whether we are driving a car, a motorcycle, a bus or a truck.
Borawski noted that village research has found even these extreme measures are far from foolproof. "The internet is full of videos of trucks that just go right through them and smash into the overpasses," Borawski said.
In short, many drivers are not paying enough attention -- or, we are so accustomed to trusting our technology that we simply disregard other messaging on the roadways. Likely, both those situations are at play, and that should give us all pause.
For, in this context, the Long Grove bridge crashes aren't just an amusing annoyance, they're a signal to all of us of the potential risks we take if we don't pay close attention to the conditions around us when we're driving. Think of that next time you're chortling at the inattentive driver who provides fodder for YouTube and Instagram posts at the Robert Parker Coffin Road bridge.