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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

City adds a flashing warning sign for truck drivers with tall trucks and short attention spans

A Spokane Transit Authority bus passes below the Stevens Street railway viaduct in downtown Spokane Tuesday afternoon. The city installed a reader board on the bridge last week. Though unlit in this photo, it will warn approaching motorists of the low height if their vehicles are taller than 11 feet, 6 inches. (Nicholas Deshais/The Spokesman-Review)

Short of lowering the road or raising the railroad bridge, there’s only so much Spokane can do for inattentive motorists on Stevens Street.

Last week, the City of Spokane installed a reader board on the downtown railway viaduct that goes over Stevens Street, which is a notorious location for collisions. When a vehicle that’s too tall approaches the bridge, the board lights up: “OVERHEIGHT DO NOT ENTER.”

The warning is in addition to the flashing lights the city installed in 2017, which flash when a lofty truck comes barreling down the arterial, four-lane road that carries nearly 10,000 vehicles a day on average. The reader board also joins the yellow signs that have been there for decades warning motorists of the “Low Bridge” and low height of 11 feet, 6 inches.

If history’s any indication, the bridge won’t be spared any kisses from tall trucks.

Between 2007 and 2017, 37 trucks hit the Stevens viaduct. In all, there have been 108 collisions between tall vehicles and Spokane’s bridges over the decade, according to data collected by the City of Spokane.

Marlene Feist, the city’s spokeswoman, said the latest warning system is too new to determine if it’s working and that it cost $10,000.

The viaduct was built in 1915 to separate train traffic from the growing numbers of motorists. Before 1915, trains traveled at street level.

Stevens doesn’t have the lowest clearance downtown – that distinction belongs to Wall Street, which has 2 inches less leeway below the rail viaduct. But with just two lanes, Wall has a quarter of the traffic Stevens does and peters out at Sixth Avenue. Stevens, on the other hand, goes up the South Hill and turns into Grand Boulevard.