St. Paul Street sign

One of the new signs installed along St. Paul Street to warn drivers of the low clearance ahead.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A new crop of signs is warning truck drivers to stay away from the bridges over St. Paul Street, but local officials say more is needed to keep trucks from clogging up the local road.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation installed nine new signs in mid-November, according to Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski. The signs are located at intervals along the North Smithfield stretch of St. Paul Street, warning truck drivers of an 11-foot-5-inch clearance ahead and directing them down side streets.

“It’s better, the situation has improved, there’s plenty of signage, but I’m still thinking that we need to do some kind of hanging warning system or flashing light,” Zwolenski told The Breeze last week.

Local officials have for years tried to cut down on the number of trucks hitting the two railroad bridges just over the state line in Blackstone. In one 11-month span in 2019 alone, the drivers of 18 trucks hit the bridges from the Blackstone side, averaging more than one incident per month.

In North Smithfield, too, officials have expressed concern about the trucks, as a hit on either side of the bridges often has the potential to stop traffic in both towns.

The problem, Zwolenski said, is that even if drivers see the new signs, it’s often too late for them to turn around without detouring down a narrow residential street. The town administrator said he would like to see the RIDOT install signs near the approaches to St. Paul Street on Victory Highway to keep truck drivers from turning down the road.

“I envision it being somewhere over by the St. Paul Street Fire Station, warning them,” he said.

Zwolenski said he is not opposed to a warning “blanket” that would hit trucks too tall to pass under the bridges. Though some have expressed concern that type of sign could interfere with the town’s emergency vehicles, Zwolenski said after speaking with Fire Chief David Chartier, he learned all of the department’s vehicles are fewer than 10 feet in height.

Once the state has installed adequate signage at the approaches to the bridge, he said, the town could look into getting compensation for the time and funds its emergency departments spend responding to collisions or helping drivers back down the road.

“With adequate warning, the trucking companies should be held accountable for the cost,” he said.

Zwolenski said he is not aware of any trucks that have hit the bridge from the North Smithfield side since the new signs were installed, but the town still deals with the problem of trucks that need to turn around and have nowhere to go. Zwolenski said he’d prefer not to have trucks turning up Franklin Way or Mendon Road, both residential roads with hills.

“The problem here is where are they going to turn around? Once they get on St. Paul Street, it’s difficult to turn around,” he said.

During a Town Council meeting on Dec. 6, Councilor Paul Vadenais pointed out a new sign installed on the Blackstone side of the bridge is already dented from a truck collision.

“It’s 2-feet-by-8-feet, a brand new sign, and it’s crushed already. It’s already been hit by a truck,” he said.

Zwolenski agreed more needs to be done to keep truck drivers away from the bridges.

“I would prefer to have flashing signs and a hanging blanket, just so we’ve covered everything,” he said.

(4) comments

xrilander

Nationwide issue. I now live 2700 miles away in a city that also has a low bridge (8.8 feet) that` had been hit repeatedly. The railroad had enough, and it`s been closed since February 2020.

Kantra69

Alot of drivers cannot read English and alot use cheap GPS's that don't let you put in the trucks height.

Mydrivec

As the last available turn, Elizabeth Ave residents see trucks ALL DAY LONG that have no business being here. It's a constant parade of heavy vehicles by my home. I've been working remote since the pandemic began and as I sit in my office, I watch 4-5 trucks daily go by in search of an alternate route.

In fact, a mid-size (think UPS/Fedex) truck hit the bridge last week and peeled it's top. It was able to back up and park on Elizabeth until a tow truck could come so no police calls were made (or so it appeared).

Why aren't we charging companies that hit it now for the time/effort of cleanup, details during closure, etc.? There is more than enough signage on both sides. If you hit the bridge, you shouldn't have your CDL period.

Art Bassett

Gaild

I introduced the hanging blankets, the state chose signs. Now damaged signs, what a waste of money! Put the blankets up in NS on St. Paul St. after the fire station. Also put up a "video camera" - What the Massachusetts side wants to do with that side is their business. The blankets work. It's loud that the driver will hear it, even with earphones on. Mr. Zwolenki, let NS be proactive. Like I said, the highway dept can make one of these blankets with scrap they have in the yard.

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