Historic Bridges Are Under Threat from Modern GPS

05:07 March 23, 2024

Historic Bridges Are Under Threat from Modern GPS

Historic covered bridges in the United States are under threat by the use of the modern technology GPS.

GPS is short for Global Positioning System. The satellite system tells people who use map applications what roads to use to go from one place to another.

The historic bridges usually have signs, including flashing lights, to warn trucks that are too tall or too heavy not to cross. But some truck drivers do not follow the warnings and crash into the bridge. They say the GPS directed them onto the bridge. Many times, the drivers are using systems made for cars instead of large trucks.

In the northeastern state of Vermont, Lyndon town officials say the 146-year-old Miller’s Bridge has been hit more than 20 times.

Justin Smith is an administrator for Lyndon. “GPS is the most general excuse that is given by drivers that do hit the bridge,” he said. Drivers can face a fine of $5,000 from the town, plus payments to the state. But he added that the real problem is drivers simply not thinking about their actions.

Jack Harris is the head of Lyndon’s police. He said that the bridge had to be closed twice for major repairs. Each time, it took several months to finish the job.

In 2019, a truck hit the bridge supports. Engineering and repair costs were nearly $100,000, said Smith.

About half the time, the town gets its money back through the drivers’ insurance — if it catches them. Many drivers simply drive away without telling officials about the accident. A nearby security camera aimed at the bridge has helped officials find some drivers.

“They will claim that they didn’t know they hit it and yet you’ll see the truck stop in the middle of the bridge and they’ll look up to see that they’re hitting the bridge,” Police Chief Harris said.

Bill Caswell is president of the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges. He said trucks have damaged many covered bridges in Vermont and other states like Illinois and Ohio.

Caswell said trucks hit a covered bridge in Cobb County, Georgia, so many times that officials put metal barriers at each end of it. The bridge also has warning signs and flashing lights.

“Even with all the warnings, the barriers are still struck,” Caswell wrote to The Associated Press. “But the bridge is now protected.”

Back in Lyndon, the town is looking at plans to put a steel beam in front of the bridge. The beam would force trucks that are too tall to come to a stop.

A Google spokesperson said their Google Maps' app is made for drivers of cars and small trucks. The spokesperson added that drivers of larger vehicles should use different systems.

Apple also has a “Maps” app. The company did not answer an Associated Press email asking for comment.

In Lyndon, there are different ideas in town about what to do, said Smith, the administrator.

“Some people obviously want to see something that protects the bridge so we can keep it in place,” he said. “Others are like: ‘It’s time to take it off and set it on the side and put a more standard bridge in.”

I’m Andrew Smith.

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