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.