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By Hein Kaiser

Journalist


The Kempton Park bridge that eats trucks [PICS]

Although Elgin bridge has some signage, local ward councillor Amanda Davison says it’s simply not enough.


Elgin Road in Kempton Park is a Venus trucktrap that, with monotonous regularity, sees trucks of various shapes and sizes get wedged between the road and the structure.

It’s a railway bridge with a dip, not dissimilar to the same railway overpass that saw a gas tanker become stuck, leak, and eventually explode on Christmas Eve in Boksburg last year.

At least three trucks a week

Local resident and member of the provincial legislature Refiloe N’tsheke said at least three trucks get stuck there every week.

“My children and I, along with others, started counting and recording this phenomenon,” she said.

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And while it may be entertaining, the consequences of the wrong vehicle getting stuck at the wrong time can lead to disaster.

Forensic accident investigator Stan Bezuidenhout, who probed the Boksburg blast, said warnings were critical for safe passage.

“When I was engaged in the Boksburg tanker explosion, I conducted an audit in the region on the condition of bridges and signage. The thing that bothered me most was that I was left with the impression that no modern interventions have been considered, as far as bridges, especially low-hanging bridges, were concerned,” he said.

Signage not enough

But there is a difference between the two sites. Whereas a faded, barely legible sign nailed to the bridge in Boksburg was the only indication of the bridge’s height limitations, Elgin bridge has some signage but, said local ward councillor Amanda Davison, it’s simply not enough.

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Some warnings are placed too late to allow for trucks to turn around.

“It’s been a battle for years,” she said, adding that the City of Ekurhuleni believes the signage, replaced shortly after the Boksburg explosion, is now adequate.

Davison disagreed and said it was simply a reprise of the same signage, upgraded.

“It’s just not good enough,” Bezuidenhout, who has visited the site, said.

“What I noticed is that there are signs, but they are clearly inadequate and seemingly designed only in an effort to transfer responsibility.

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“As far as I can determine, the signage around bridges is not designed to affect the actions of road users – specifically truck and bus drivers – but to have something in place that can be used to ensure the driver remains accountable.

“It’s not unlike the potholes signs we see all over South Africa. As far as I can tell, they seem to be installed only to say: ‘We told you about it, so if you run into it, you cannot blame us!’”

Blame-shifting costs lives, he added. Previous media reports blamed truck drivers for not paying attention to the signage. However, said Davison, they are only partly to blame. She did an experiment and the evidence, though anecdotal, indicated that warning signs are not enough.

“I took three passengers along all three feeder roads heading towards the bridge. And they either found the signage confusing, or didn’t notice it at all,” she said.

More signs before bridge

Davison wants gantries overhead and a restricting height well before the bridge, on approach. But this is no longer a tool allowed by policy. At the very least, she said, massive signs with solar-powered flashing lights that attract attention should be erected well in advance of the turn to the bridge.

Bezuidenhout said there were mechanisms authorities could use to prevent future challenges.

WATCH: Another tanker crashes into bridge near N12 in Johannesburg

“Why would there not be very clear signage, high visibility warning, overhanging gong barriers and a variety of other mechanisms to prevent a truck or bus driver from driving down a road to where this risk might be realised? Surely, once you’ve gone too far, stopping in the road because your vehicle is too high is almost as dangerous as getting stuck,” he said.

– news@citizen.co.za

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