The N.C. Department of Transportation wants to starve 11foot8.com of new content, and it's spending about $110,000 to do it.
Durhamites already kind of know what this is all about. So do people from all over the U.S. who read The Wall Street Journal and watch NBC News. The website and its subject—what locals call the "Can Opener Bridge"—are rather famous. (There are T-shirts and everything.)
The site belongs to Duke systems analyst Jürgen Henn, who has a video camera set up to chronicle the mishaps, mostly involving rental trucks, of the low railroad overpass on Gregson Street. With some frequency, too-tall trucks fail to heed blinking-light warnings, and truck tops get peeled like sardine cans. It's quite funny.
It's not so funny to the NCDOT, though, nor to the Durham Transportation Department. The Can Opener accounted for sixty-six crashes between January 1, 2008, and October 31, 2015. Fortunately, there were only two injuries and no fatalities. But it's a big pain in the ass for the city.
In a January Wall Street Journal article about the bridge, Durham transportation engineer Pete Nicholas is quoted as telling Henn: "My goal is to put your website out of business."
To do that, he wanted to put a height sensor near the Main Street intersection, which would trigger a traffic light to turn red when an over-height truck approached.
"It's basically a little box," explains John Sandor, a project manager for the DOT. "It has a partner across the street that it will shoot a laser to. And whenever that [path] is broken, that will send a message that an overheight vehicle has been detected."
The idea, Sandor says, is that inexperienced truck drivers, when forced to stop, may have time "to digest what's happening." With any luck, they'll turn off Gregson and find an alternate route.
Sandor says the final touches should be finished by the end of April. The city will need to paint new road markings, and the DOT is waiting for Duke Energy to supply power.
The next step, says Sandor, is to test the system and preview it for frequent travelers at that spot. If everything works, the traffic light will go into full operation a week later.
The state-funded project is currently running a little behind schedule—and under its $120,000 budget. A $150,000 companion project at the lesser-discussed eleven-foot-four bridge on Roxboro Road and Pettigrew Street is expected to be finished a week or two later.
"Our hope is that this will work," says Sandor. "Or at least cut the problem down to a very small number."