New signs, maybe flashing lights and more to protect Long Grove bridge

  • Signs posted on the westbound side of Robert Parker Coffin Road warn of the low clearance for the Long Grove covered bridge. New yellow signs were added to the top of the bridge Thursday morning after a second oversized vehicle hit the newly reopened bridge in the past week.

      Signs posted on the westbound side of Robert Parker Coffin Road warn of the low clearance for the Long Grove covered bridge. New yellow signs were added to the top of the bridge Thursday morning after a second oversized vehicle hit the newly reopened bridge in the past week. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Signs posted at the Long Grove historic covered bridge warn of its low clearance.

      Signs posted at the Long Grove historic covered bridge warn of its low clearance. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/21/2020 9:20 AM

In hopes of avoiding more eye-popping headlines, Long Grove village officials affixed bright yellow height signs on the town's beloved covered bridge Thursday and will examine options such as installing weight-triggered flashing lights and drive-through-style low-clearance bars along the roadway.

The bridge on Robert Parker Coffin Road, just west of downtown, didn't suffer structural damage after two oversized vehicles -- a school bus Saturday and a box truck Wednesday -- drove through despite being too tall for the bridge, officials said.

 

The bridge reopened just a week ago after being closed for two years due to severe damage caused by a box truck in June 2018.

Damage from an oversized vehicle is seen on the west end, under a new yellow height warning sign posted on the Long Grove historic covered bridge Thursday.
  Damage from an oversized vehicle is seen on the west end, under a new yellow height warning sign posted on the Long Grove historic covered bridge Thursday. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

The first hit by the rented school bus full of adult golfers snapped off planks of wood on both sides of the bridge and took place less than 23 hours after the village held a grand reopening. The second hit clipped the bridge's facade.

Jim Carmichael, president of Carmichael Construction in Marengo, which built the bridge's new wood cover, said damages are under $10,000. Parts should arrive next week and the repair work should last about two days, he said. "It's all cosmetic," he said.

The concrete work was done by Alliance Contractors Inc. of Woodstock. Both contractors said they were stunned at the beating the bridge has taken in the past week.

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"I don't know what to think. It seems hard to imagine, doesn't it?" Alliance President Mike Paulson said.

A vehicle travels Thursday through the Long Grove historic covered bridge, which suffered damage from two separate oversized vehicles.
  A vehicle travels Thursday through the Long Grove historic covered bridge, which suffered damage from two separate oversized vehicles. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

Drivers Wendy Guzman, 42, of Chicago, who drove the school bus Saturday, and Arturo Ferreira, 29, of Chicago, who drove the box truck Wednesday, were charged with disobeying a posted traffic sign and exceeding height restriction on a covered bridge, said Sgt. Chris Covelli of the Lake County sheriff's office. Guzman also was charged with exceeding a 5-ton weight limit on the road.

Both could face fines of more than $1,000 and are due Oct. 7 in Lake County branch court, Covelli said.

Village Manager David Lothspeich said their insurance companies are expected to pay for damages.

The bridge was built in 1906 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The first cover was added in 1972 to help preserve it from the elements and limit heavy vehicles; the new cover is supported by a steel skeleton.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"What we did to protect it, it seems to be working," Village President Bill Jacob said.

Lothspeich agreed. "That's the silver lining. We didn't have to close down the bridge and we didn't have to replace the cover. That's a good four- to six-month process."

Signs posted on the westbound side of the Long Grove covered bridge warn of its low clearance. New yellow signs were added to the top of the bridge Thursday morning after a second oversized vehicle hit the bridge in the past week.
  Signs posted on the westbound side of the Long Grove covered bridge warn of its low clearance. New yellow signs were added to the top of the bridge Thursday morning after a second oversized vehicle hit the bridge in the past week. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

There are several warning signs on both sides of the bridge.

Eastbound drivers on Robert Parker Coffin Road encounter a yellow sign about 500 feet before the bridge indicating a height of 8 feet, 6 inches, and "no trucks or buses" and "no trucks beyond this point" signs near the bridge. Westbound drivers encounter the same, except the height sign is about 200 feet before the bridge.

Some of the signage was installed recently; the village hoped that would be enough, Lothspeich said.

"It's unbelievable that everybody is totally disobeying that," Jacob said, adding the village might consider extra police patrols.

In past years the bridge had yellow signs indicating a height of 10 feet, 6 inches. The new bridge is the same configuration, but the posted limit is the lowest point on the arched cover, Lothspeich explained.

This sign is posted about 100 feet before the Long Grove historic covered bridge, looking west on Robert Parker Coffin Road.
  This sign is posted about 100 feet before the Long Grove historic covered bridge, looking west on Robert Parker Coffin Road. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

"It doesn't seem to matter how much signage is out there, although more certainly is probably better," he said. "Hopefully this helps with the frequency of the bridge being hit."

Lothspeich said that in an attempt to find creative solutions, he'd been following the tales of the so-called "11-foot-8 Bridge" in Durham, North Carolina, which gained notoriety for repeated damage as trucks drove under it. Eventually, that city's officials decided to raise the bridge late last year.

"That's kind of the frustration we are all facing," Lothspeich said. "It just seems that short of physically stopping a person from driving a vehicle into the bridge, there is no sure thing there."

Law enforcement said the school bus driver said her GPS warned her about the bridge, while the box truck driver said his GPS didn't warn him.

Regular GPS navigation systems don't seem to allow people to set preferences to avoid low-clearance bridges, but there are smartphone apps for that purpose. About two years ago, an intern working for the village made a formal request to Google so that when someone drives an oversized vehicle, the driver would be routed away from the bridge, Lothspeich said.

New yellow signs were added to the top of Long Grove's covered bridge Thursday morning after a second oversized vehicle hit the bridge in the past week. Wood from the latest crash lays at the foot of the signs at right.
  New yellow signs were added to the top of Long Grove's covered bridge Thursday morning after a second oversized vehicle hit the bridge in the past week. Wood from the latest crash lays at the foot of the signs at right. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

So is doing away with the bridge an option? Or maybe taking off its cover?

No, Jacob said.

"It's our logo. It's part of Long Grove," he said. "We just need to take some measures to try to protect it ... It's worth it. It's part of our downtown. That's not going to change."

• Daily Herald staff photographer John Starks contributed to this report.

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