Subway clearance sign.JPG

A Furniture Row truck gets stuck under Subway bypass on June 4 in Mansfield.

MANSFIELD -- A large commercial truck wedged underneath the Subway underpass has become an unwelcome but frequent site for Mansfield drivers for decades.

The problem may come down to simple negligence.

"It's really just neglecting signs," said Mansfield Police captain Doug Noblet. "And I know this because we have semi-trucks driving downtown not on the truck route."

The Subway, located at the fork of Ohio 42 and Park Avenue East, is not a part of the city's designated truck route.

Noblet said in 2018 police responded to five vehicles trapped under the Subway. This year is far ahead of that pace, already there have been four in that predicament in 2019.

"It seems like it happens a lot," he said.

City engineer Bob Bianchi said about five or six times a year on average vehicles get stuck at the location, despite the 12-foot clearance sign prominently posted on the bridge.

"We have all the advanced warning signs," he said. "And there's a sign on the bridge that shows its height."

When a semi-truck gets trapped along one of the city's busiest corridors, officers have to respond.

"The only thing I can think of is better or more signage," said patrol officer Joe Gladden, "to make sure (semi-trucks) are aware of the bridge height before they get there. Obviously, many drivers are not seeing it before it's too late."

When a truck becomes sandwiched, Mansfield Police respond.

"Depending on the truck, there are a few options. I have (officers) block traffic, then we'll deflate tires and have a tow truck move it out," Noblet said.

The time it takes to clear the one-lane way under the bridge determines how the situation is resolved, Gladden added.

"It depends on the response time of the tow truck and how badly it's stuck and what they have to do to get it out," he said. "And how badly (the truck) is damaged."

Bianchi said though the bridge is hit frequently, it's still in solid condition.

"Believe it or not, it's structured with a significant amount of steel and concrete," Bianchi said. "Where it's been hit, concrete has crumbled and steel is exposed, but it gets rated by ODOT (The Ohio Department of Transportation) each year and is always OK."

Delaware, Ohio faced a similar issue with a railroad underpass dubbed "The Can Opener." It earned its nickname by the locals who frequently saw visiting trucks have their ceilings ripped open after driving through the West Central Avenue railroad overpass. According to a report from the Delaware Gazette, since 2015 the Can Opener has claimed 20 vehicular victims.

In November of 2018, the City of Delaware implemented two large message boards before the overpass and a laser-beam apparatus that detects vehicles too tall for the limit.

The $180,000-project was wholly funded through a grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Improvement Program, which dedicates about $102 million annually for engineering improvements at high-crash and severe-crash locations, according to the ODOT website.

"Funding requests typically range from $200,000 to $5 million, though the department will consider funding requests up to $10 million," the site reads. "Funding is available for all stages of development and typically requires a minimum 10 percent local match.

"Safety improvements, such as upgrading signs, signals, pavement markings and guardrail are eligible for 100 percent funding," the site reads.

Delaware's traffic sensors are located approximately 900 feet before each bridge entrance — the eastbound beam near the entrance to OhioHealth Grady Memorial Hospital and the westbound beam near Euclid Avenue, the Gazette reported.

If the laser sensor is tripped, the message board on that side of the bridge will first flash “WARNING” before displaying “OVERHEIGHT VEHICLE DETECTED.”

This same technology the city has turned to is used in several other states. Delaware city officials told the Gazette they believe the new detection system will reduce bridge incidents by 50 to 60 percent.

Bianchi said Mansfield has discussed similar upgrades in the past, but not recent years. The Subway Overpass is marked as 12-feet tall. The ODOT standard height for bridges is 16 feet.

"It's hard because spending public money to help private citizens -- no one has been injured. It's just private owners damaging their vehicles and they have insurance -- but there is also the idea of the hour or so people are unable to drive under the Subway," Bianchi said.

He added the ODOT Highway Safety Improvement Program is competitive and without public injury, it could be difficult to receive any funds.

Staff Reporter

Noah Jones is host to The Open Mic Podcast -- available on Apple Podcasts! He is the crime, education and music reporter for Richland Source. He is a native of St. Louis, Missouri and a giant Cardinals fan.

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