By: Chris Barlow
Road signage, blinking lights, yellow and black warning paint…a host of truck-saving temporary solutions are already in place…and yet the bridge keeps claiming victims.
The bridge is located near the Hoyt Park Entrance on Swan Boulevard and has been crunching oversized vehicles for decades. It happens so often a Facebook group page has emerged giving the bridge the title “The Swan Slicer.”
The page attempts to point out the issue with humor but Milwaukee County Supervisor Shawn Rolland said officials are taking the subject seriously and are seeking a solution.
“I have not seen a band-aid idea that would accomplish what we want,” Rolland said. “We are open to suggestions.”
Keeping with the humorous theme of the web page, group members have posted ideas that may seem silly, but perhaps there is merit to them. One group member wrote “Novel idea, since they seem oblivious to normal signage, how about seeing if the railroad will spring for a larger-than-life Gandalf holding a sign that says: ‘You shall not pass!!,’.”
Another member spotted a truck in reverse after it heeded the warning and wrote “Crisis averted! He’s backing up.” The picture accompanying the post is an undamaged truck, but damaged vehicles are much too often the norm.
One group member posted some helpful information that drivers may be oblivious and unable to do the math at high speeds and avoid disaster.
“Swan Slicer is near the bottom of a sag curve in the roadway. Vehicle heights increase when traveling down the sag. If truck height from wheels to roof is 11.5 feet high on level ground, that height is higher when the road pitch is 8%, for example,” The poster wrote.
“I have seen all of the same photos everyone else is seeing,” Rolland said. “We still have not found a solution.”
Rolland said the options they have explored include additional signage and a road bar that would alert a driver of the impending doom. But he added that these have been attempted either at this site or other places like Mitchell Boulevard and I-94 or the “KK Can Opener.”
“At high speeds, the strike bar could create more problems,” Rolland said. “And there is already a lot of signage on the site.”
Past Attempts to Fix It
The Canadian Pacific Railway Company owns and operates the bridge, and Rolland said the city has discussed the issue with CPR. The Railroad said they updated the bridge in the fall of 2021 and added signage.
With myriad options that have already been tried, most now agree the only way to completely solve the problem is to lower the roadway. “We will work with the railway and the (Department of Transportation) to lower the roadway, as more clearance is the best plan,” Rolland said. “It is the best permanent solution.”
But lowering everything is not an easy fix and requires rebuilding the entire roadway which Rolland said is not scheduled anytime soon. In the meantime, drivers, most notably drivers of those noncommercial trucks like moving and rental vans, need to be extra-attentive.
The Swan Slicer makes clear that extra care needs to be taken when handling trucks. It also suggests a driver may not be fully aware of changes in their clearance height, which can have devastating results!