Constable: Bridge not asking to be hit, but it could take precautions

  • A day after its grand reopening in August 2020, the historic covered bridge in Long Grove got hit by this bus.

    A day after its grand reopening in August 2020, the historic covered bridge in Long Grove got hit by this bus. Courtesy of Kurt Fuqua

  • The driver of a U-Haul truck that hit the covered bridge on Robert Parker Coffin Road in Long Grove last week talks on the phone while waiting for a tow truck.

    The driver of a U-Haul truck that hit the covered bridge on Robert Parker Coffin Road in Long Grove last week talks on the phone while waiting for a tow truck. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • As the chief technical officer of Termico Technologies in Elk Grove Village, Mike Cubon sketched his idea to stop too-tall vehicles from hitting the historic covered bridge in Long Grove. If a sensor detected a truck too tall for the entry, it would activate a red strobe light meant to get the driver to stop.

    As the chief technical officer of Termico Technologies in Elk Grove Village, Mike Cubon sketched his idea to stop too-tall vehicles from hitting the historic covered bridge in Long Grove. If a sensor detected a truck too tall for the entry, it would activate a red strobe light meant to get the driver to stop. Courtesy of Mike Cubon

  • The top of a box truck slammed into Long Grove's covered bridge on Feb. 1, 2021, leaving the truck more damaged than the bridge.

    The top of a box truck slammed into Long Grove's covered bridge on Feb. 1, 2021, leaving the truck more damaged than the bridge. Courtesy of Jeffery Taylor

 
 
Updated 4/15/2021 7:29 AM

I don't like to play into that blame-the-victim mentality when it comes to the number of trucks getting stuck under the historic covered bridge in Long Grove. Some critics say a one-lane bridge with a clearance of only 8-feet-6-inches basically is asking to get hit by trucks, school buses and very tall bicyclists.

I still blame the drivers of said vehicles, who get citations from the Lake County sheriff's office for violating the traffic control sign prohibiting trucks taller than that height, and a similar citation for violating a Long Grove ordinance banning such trucks. The last driver blamed his GPS for not telling him that his truck was 3 feet taller than the bridge cover.

 

But I will admit the bridge probably could do something to protect itself. Even if a driver isn't texting, he or she might see the 8-feet-6-inches clearance sign and instantly revert to fifth-grade math class, where a truck standing 10-feet tall approaching the bridge at 32 miles an hour into a 4-mph wind is going to slam into the bridge before the calculation is finished.

Starting with a box truck getting stuck under the newly rehabbed bridge on Aug. 19, 2020, the bridge went five days before a large van got stuck, according to information compiled by Lt. Christopher Covelli, the public information officer for the Lake County sheriff's office. Vehicles hit the bridge again seven days later, three times in September, three times in October, once in November, once in December, once in January and once in February. March was part of a 68-day-accident-free streak that was broken April 9, when a rental truck got stuck under the bridge.

Readers of that story suggested the bridge raise its clearance, become a pedestrian-only bridge, erect an 8-foot-6-inch tall metal beam to rip into tall trucks before they get to the bridge, or rig up some sort of booby trap that drops an anvil on any approaching tall truck before it hits the bridge.

Cynics note the village gets free publicity every time a vehicle gets stuck under the bridge. The Historic Downtown Long Grove website might want to rethink the word "miss" when it tells visitors: "Don't miss your chance to visit our recently reopened, historic one-lane covered bridge!" Some misses would be appreciated. The website also notes: "After a lengthy renovation project, and addition of a new cover, this icon has been brought back to its glory days."

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According to HistoricBridges.org, the Long Grove bridge "is absolutely not a covered bridge." The "beautiful historic metal truss bridge," built by the Joliet Bridge and Iron Company around 1906, has its true beauty "obscured by a fake wooden covering that only serves to create a false sense of history."

I'm not saying they are wrong, but lots of people like the bridge as it is, and don't appreciate trucks apparently doing their best to remove that wooden cover.

But how do we stop the accidents?

I reached out to Mike Cubon, the chief technical officer of Termico Technologies in Elk Grove Village. He knows a bit about traffic safety, as he and his engineering team just won the "2021 Coolest Thing Made In Illinois" contest from the Illinois Manufacturers' Association for their self-regulating traffic signal heater, which melts snow and keeps it from obscuring traffic lights.

Within a minute, Cubon not only suggested a sensor or camera that could detect the height of any approaching vehicle and flash a red strobe light to warn the driver of anything too tall, he sent me a drawing that showed it in action.

"As a side note, we can provide heaters to keep the snow off the sensors/cameras and LED strobe light," Cubon adds.

Do that and the problem might be solved. But if nothing changes, I think Long Grove should consider leasing advertising space on the bridge. Every time a truck, bus or van gets wedged in the bridge, and television cameras and photographers arrive, an advertisement banner could unfurl promoting Burger King as the "Home of the Whopper," a local Big & Tall shop, Double Stuff Oreo cookies or Trojan Magnum XL condoms.

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