“We are here today to declare to the Department of Transportation that time is up,” said Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages at a news conference on April 13.
At the news conference, which was held by State Sen. John Brooks, state and county officials called upon the state Department of Transportation to increase the safety measures on the Southern State Parkway following the bus crash at the Eagle Avenue bridge in Lakeview on April 8.
“We must take immediate steps to improve safety … and consider additional measures, such as clearance bars at the entrance ramps, which would be low-cost supplement to the ongoing program,” Brooks said.
Brooks also said that each clearance bar would cost about $80.
“The southern state is one of the deadliest parkways in the country,” said Town Supervisor Laura Gillen. “This common sense measure is necessary, and the Department of Transportation must act expeditiously in adding these bars.”
As for safety measures, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an installation project for $4.3 million that was dedicated to adding sensors at 13 sites across Long Island.
“It is with immediate urgency that we encourage the expedited installation of the remaining eight sensors that would notify the driver that the height of the vehicle does not meet the needed clearance requirements for the overpasses on the roadway,” Brooks said.
A commercial charter bus carrying a student group from Kennedy International Airport to the Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington slammed into the overpass at the Eagle Avenue exit of the Southern State Parkway around 9 p.m.
Six people were seriously hurt in the crash and were rushed to area hospitals, and three dozen suffered minor injuries. The bus was carrying 38 students and five chaperones.
Shortly after the crash, a South Nassau Communities Hospital spokesman said that there were five people rushed to the Oceanside medical center. Three were released, and two are in stable condition.
The students, ages 16 to 18, were reportedly returning from a trip to Europe and were headed to meet their parents at Walt Whitman Shops, better known as the Walt Whitman Mall.
The bus driver, Troy D. Gatson, of Bethlehem, Pa., was using a non-commercial GPS device, according to State Police Maj. David Candelaria. The DOT told the Herald that they have included additional mapping information to truckers through GPS services, industry groups, brochures and the 511NY travel information service.
“The bus driver was wrong,” said Abdul Osman, who lives in a cul-de-sac near the bridge. “They’re supposed to be more aware, and they’re supposed to use their own roads.”
With a height of 7 feet, 7 inches, the Eagle Avenue bridge — as Rossana Weitekamp reported in the Herald in 2015 — has one of the lowest clearances of any on Long Island parkways, and is struck from beneath by oversized trucks an average of three times a year, according to the state Department of Transportation.
“I heard two loud noises,” said Richard Miot, a resident that also lives near the bridge, “and then literally in two minutes, I heard ambulance sirens.”
“I heard a load bang, and then I started screaming at my nephew upstairs,” said another resident, Roberto Gutierrez, who has lived near the bridge for almost 30 years. “I thought he had dropped a dumbbell when he was working out.”
Trucks and large buses are not permitted on state parkways, which were designed in the 1920s and ’30s by Robert Moses to exclude them. The overpasses’ tunnels do not have enough head room to allow buses to pass through them.
Miot, who has lived near the Eagle Avenue bridge for nearly 20 years, said that he does not recall many incidents that involve the height of the overpass.
Gutierrez said that he commutes on the Southern State Parkway regularly, and explained that the signs for the bridge size are hardly noticeable.
“The signs should be bigger and brighter,” Gutierrez said, adding that if the signs are difficult for him to see, then they are probably difficult for truck and bus drivers as well.
“State parkways are clearly signed that commercial vehicles are prohibited,” the state DOT said in a statement. “In recent years, the New York State Department of Transportation has enhanced signage and road markings and installed flashing beacons and electronic variable message signs alerting truckers of travel and bridge-height restrictions.”
The DOT added that the department has also installed infrared over-height detection systems on various parkways, including on the Northern and Southern State parkways on Long Island.
Ronny Reyes contributed to this story.