Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Obsolete and Dangerous Infrastructure Contributed To Deadly Bronx River Parkway Crash

Over the weekend there was a deadly accident on the Bronx River Parkway adjacent to the Bronx Zoo. Seven people were killed when their vehicle somehow managed to cross four lanes of traffic and over the side barrier and crashed more than 60 feet below into a storage yard at the zoo.

Local politicians are clamoring for action and wondering why the elevated section has high curbs and insufficiently high railings to prevent vehicles from careening off the roadway.
A perfect storm of factors — including a measly 4-foot guardrail and a concrete curb bizarrely placed along a section of the Bronx River Parkway — could have contributed to the crash that killed seven relatives there Sunday, experts said.

“Highways are not supposed to have curbs,” said Robert Sinclair, spokesman for AAA New York, referring to the 2-foot-high ledge along the right side of the highway that the SUV struck, sending it over the guardrail before it plunged 60 feet onto Bronx Zoo turf.

“And not only is there a curb there, [but] it’s particularly high,” he said.
In addition, the guardrail “would need to be higher for that area because you’re trying to keep vehicles from flying off because of the 60-foot drop. And you’ve got that catapulting curb there.”

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. also zeroed in on the 4-foot-high rails, calling for state officials to reassess their height in that spot.

“I believe strongly if the railing was higher, at the very worst we would have had a very bad car accident and not a vehicle going over and killing seven,’’ Diaz said.
“We [need] them at least 10 feet or more so this doesn’t happen again.’’

He said he also asked authorities, “Why is the rest of the parkway always smooth and [in] the elevated portion there is always potholes?”
There are indeed a host of reasons why this roadway is so dangerous - and those reasons aren't confined to the Bronx River Parkway viaduct in question.

The same issues can be raised of a stretch of the Cross Bronx Expressway where the viaduct seems to roll up and down by several feet - especially in and around the expansion joints and the drains along the center of the highway. It is all too easy for a vehicle to lose control under those circumstances.

It comes down to the fact that many highways in the area, and indeed around the nation, are obsolete and need major reconstruction or repair to bring them up to a state of good repair. Patching potholes on these structures is a temporary fix - it would take a reconstruction to provide a significant upgrade to the facilities.

However, there are some fixes that could improve safety along the Bronx River Parkway - though drivers might not necessarily like it.

Reduce the number of lanes of traffic from three to two in each direction and provide a breakdown lane that can give drivers a chance to correct themselves. Work should not have to wait until the next decade to reconstruct the highway. This is a stretch that has already taken lives due to poor and obsolete design. We shouldn't have to see more lives lost on this stretch due to the fact that the money can't be found sooner to rebuild the highway so that it is safer for all who use it.

This horrific tale once again highlights the need to maintain and upgrade existing infrastructure to current design standards to reduce the chances for deadly accidents that could be prevented using modern design techniques that keep vehicles on elevated structures and eliminate obstacles that could launch vehicles over the side.

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