A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Decades of crashes without a permanent fix

Written May 7th, 2023 by Hasso Hering

On a Sunday in May, with no tall vehicles in sight, the Lafayette Street trestle on First Avenue looks battered but harmless.

More or less on a regular basis, tall vehicles have hit the trestle on First Avenue in Albany since at least the 1960s. Despite efforts to prevent them, the crashes continue.

On May 6 a recreational vehicle had its rooftop air conditioner torn off and the roof itself sliced open. It was the latest in a long string of similar mishaps.

I don’t think the police or anyone else is keeping a list, so it’s impossible to know exactly how often this has happened.

But I searched for reports in the Democrat-Herald and found stories about the “truck-eating trestle” going back through the years, in 2016, 2015, 2012, 1982, 1971, 1970, and 1969, sometimes several in the same year.

It’s a cumbersome chore, looking through the digital archive of newspapers.com, and I quit after reading crash reports at the First Avenue trestle in June 1969 and again a month later.

In recent years the clearance under the railroad bridge has been 11 feet 4 inches. In 1971, it was reported as 10 feet 4 inches.

In 1977, the Southern Pacific (which owned the rail line then) raised the trestles across First and Water avenues to accommodate higher loads in the railcars of the Burlington Northern, which was moving its line on Water Avenue. The clearance went up 1 foot on Water but only 2 inches on First.

Some years later,  if memory serves, the City of Albany lowered the First Avenue pavement. In 2016, the city upgraded the signs on First, including truck detour signs. And the blinking warning lights on the bridge itself were improved with much brighter LEDs.

The warnings are there, but evidently not all drivers see them. Or if they do, they may not know the height of their rigs.

Mitch Langjahr owns MacDonald Hardware and Supply, next to the trestle on First. He saw me taking photos of the scene on Sunday, and we talked.

Langjahr hasn’t kept a list either, but by his estimate a vehicle hits the trestle once a month or so on average. On Saturday he saw the owners of that RV pick up debris on the street. Some of the roof insulation of their rig was still stuck on the trestle’s leading edge.

Over the years, a few of the crashes have resulted in not just property damage. Now and then someone in the cab got hurt.

The only permanent solution, you would think, is to lower the roadway of First Avenue some more. This would create a pronounced dip and would certainly cost a lot of money.

The city has a transportation system plan that lays out scores of street improvements all over town. The plan dates from 2010 and was intended to look ahead to 2030.

If reread the whole plan and checked all the maps, but I didn’t see a project that would make it impossible for vehicles to hit the trestle on First. (hh)

A bit of pink roof insulation remained stuck on the trestle on Sunday.


31 responses to “Decades of crashes without a permanent fix”

  1. Cap B. says:

    Oh, we have a lovely new stage and splash pad being built just a few blocks southwest of that trestle, so no one gives a “damn” at City Hall about that trestle and the damage and the expense caused by various vehicles hitting it.

    I can’t get too concerned about what seem like fixable problems in Albany when it isn’t even safe in this country to go to a doctor’s office anymore…let alone a mall or a super market. Mass shootings happen every day with AR-15s blowing the faces off people. And, we will do nothing about it. We are the only country in the world who has these mass shootings daily. Other countries have mental health problems, too, and drug problems, but they don’t have mass shootings every day. We need an assault rifle ban. But, we won’t get one. (You probably won’t print this, Hasso, but you should.)

    • PJQ says:

      Doesn’t look like an assault rifle to me, looks more like a train trestle… Oh wait, I know why, Hasso’s article was about a train trestle. Brilliant bait and switch there. Just my opinion.

    • Tony Yo says:

      No, there is no such thing as an “Assault” rifle, they are semi-automatic rifles. Anything can be labeled as an Assault weapon. I can kill you with my Assault pencil, should we ban pencils? There are mass killings all over the world , yes, even without using a firearm. Machete killings happen all the time, but yet, there isn’t a call to ban machetes. This is a criminal or mental health issue. Until the politicians uncuff the police, and allow the courts to actually “Throw the book” at career criminals, that element won’t change. States need to bring back State Institutions where mental health is better addressed. Or do you think that would be cruel or unusual punishment? It wasn’t the rock that killed Abel; it wasn’t until Cain picked it up and murdered his brother that it turned into an tool of death. Don’t blame the tool, blame the individual wielding it.

      • hj.anony1 says:

        @ Tony Yo: Here is the GOD. DAMN. PROBLEM…..

        It keeps going on and on. Happening DEATH. BY. GUNS

        SHAME on US if WE do not SOLVE…. This Problem

    • Sarge says:

      Guns don’t kill people no matter of it’s a handgun or a rifle…. It’s people killing people

      • DJK says:

        I agree totally, Sarge. That guy in that Las Vegas casino would have killed just as many people if he’d used a knife instead of an AR-15.

  2. Diane says:

    I’m wondering if the pre-warning height restriction could be modified in a way to tell the driver their rig is too high. Salem Hospital’s parking garage has a low entrance and had the same issue. They installed a sign that says vehicle too tall – it lights up and flashes at the driver.

  3. Don says:

    1957 I was riding with one of my Dad’s employees and the trestle won that contact. It broke a sickle bar into. Fortunately Dad was able to weld it up and back to work the next day.

  4. CHEZZ says:

    The trestle needs a coat of paint that is bright enough for drivers to see.

  5. Anony Mouse says:

    The city owns the unsafe road, the private railroad company owns the threatening trestle, and the inattentive driver owns 100% of the consequences.

    When only one actor is held accountable in a three way screw up, don’t expect much to get fixed.

    • Matthew Calhoun says:

      The road seems pretty safe to me. In fact, a better road surface than some other streets to the south. The trestle in its state of disrepair, and the drivers who can’t be bothered to heed the various signs, lights, and chains prior to encountering this are 100% at fault. The city isn’t perfect but little to no fault of theirs here.

      • Anony Mouse says:

        Geez, such one dimensional thinking.

        Road design is more than the condition of the horizontal pavement. For example, vertical geometry. Factors pop up like vehicle clearance, axle spacing, front and rear overhang, freedom of vertical movement at articulation points.

        But, hey, we’re dealing with city government. Lots of one dimensional thinking happens amongst many, diverse, issues at Albany City Hall.

  6. centrist says:

    It would help if the GPS services quit routing past it.

    • Kathe says:

      it would also help if there were a safe way to back up once you accidentally commit. Very few people know that there is a service row to the left of the trestle. Not easily accessible , but a way out for some. The problem has been going on since the trestle was built. My father who was a trucker talked about removing air from his truck’s tires to get some loads through the trestle in the fifties. And, another person who grew up in one of the demolished houses next to the trestle told us about watching trucks not make it through the trestle in the 40s and fifties. So the problem has been there since it was built. In the summer it’s more like 2-3 vehicles that don’t make it a month.

  7. Cheryl P says:

    There are other ‘permanent’ solutions. 1) You could have sensors on the end of the chains that when they are banged against a truck or RV, would set off something like a railroad crossing with flashing red lights, bells and an arm that comes down and blocks the road. 2) You could close that section of 1st Avenue to thru traffic. 3) You could fine folks $5000 if they hit the trestle.

  8. Richard Vannice says:

    The part that you do not address in your report is that a good number of those “mishaps” involve people who live in Albany and have lived here for some time.
    Point one early 1960’s a National Guard truck carrying a large piece of equipment in the bed struck the trestle and was stuck there for several hours before someone decided to let the air out of the rear tires so they could back out.
    Point two a (then Morse Brothers) concrete mixer truck hit the trestle while enroute to a job. As I recall a goodly amount of mixed concrete was spilled from the truck and the street was blocked for several hours.
    Point three a semi truck loaded with alfalfa hay hit the trestle. Yes another big mess and the street tied up for several hours.
    Point four a box truck loaded with terracotta pottery hit the trestle. You can imagine what kind of a mess was left inside and outside of the truck, Again the street was blocked for a good number or hours.
    These are only incidents I can recall investigating in the 27 years I spent on the Albany Police Department and doesn’t include the several vehicles I stopped and helped back up to take the CLEARLY MARKED DETOUR signs.
    It isn’t the trestles fault. There are plenty of warning signs, blinking lights and chains hanging over the road! Drivers, and I include myself, tend to let their minds wander from the task at hand (DRIVING) and either have an accident or possibly get stopped for a traffic violation.
    IMO as long as there are bridges, etc and tall vehicles this will continue to happen.

  9. Carol Gascoigne says:

    I think the City Council is too busy creating playgrounds and approving more high density apartments and housing tracts than to worry about such mundane items as roadways and infrastructure

    • MarK says:

      You hit that dead on the head. Our council isn’t looking after the citizens, just their own “pet” projects.

    • Bill Kapaun says:

      Too much effort for that kind of stuff. That’s why they have all those inane committees.

  10. khs says:

    I know this is an issue but basically drivers should know the height of their vehicles and the max height should be clearly indicated before entering the passage. No budgets or expensive solutions will fix plain human errors anyway.

  11. Abe Cee says:

    What should be done is attach a steel beam/bar at the bottom end of the chains hanging down so it smacks into the high load before it gets to the trestle itself. If it makes a loud enough racket, then the driver might actually stop before they hit the trestle and cause more issues. Or consider putting another hanging chain apparatus before the detour cross street so there is more than one impending doom notice.

    Failing that, automatic bollards appearing in the middle of the road if something hits the chain should do the trick.

  12. Fred says:

    Trestle wins the argument. Pay attention. My complaint with the city is that all the roads are falling apart. In many places you can lose a car or at the least get whiplash from the bouncing. Fix the roads!

  13. Bill Kapaun says:

    It looks like it could use a good sharpening.

  14. Lisa says:

    I just dont understand how a driver could miss the warnings or to be driving a truck you dont know the height of :\ The city cant fix bad drivers, but they can fix the roads which are more important.

  15. Bob Bush says:

    Amen FRED……let the driver take responsibility for their actions….Fix the streets!!!…and while we are at it take that stupid blinking your driving too fast sign down and quit wasting money….it is not a deterrent, its gonna cause people to look at it and crash into all the cabs parked along the street and hit the trucks coming out of Parr lumber while everyone is racing to the bridge to turn right without stopping so they can tailgate you over the bridge while jockeying for position with a Walsh truck hauling someone else’s trash to Coffin Butte landfill……whoa….way too much caffeine…..I’m done.

  16. Denise says:

    What happen to the infrastructure money that was in Bidens bill to fix the roadways in this country? Trillions of dollars were allotted to take care of these problems and I’ll just bet Oregon got some of this money. Oh wait, Oregon only exists of Portland to take care of. And then the rest was sent to Ukraine to fund their war effort there. The United States is going to hell in a hand basket and our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be the ones to suffer after we are long gone. Our government needs to get their heads out of their a$$es and start working for the people of this country and realize they work for us.

  17. WW&WW says:

    I love these comments. so. much. The banter on this blog is a boon for Albany, and it is very much a huge reason I stay in town. Thank you, Hasso! I’m for it, of course!

  18. Connie Nelson says:

    I, too, enjoy reading HH’s blogs. Bob Bush, you win the award. I actually went
    and got my husband to come in and read it. We both laughed.

  19. TLH-ALB 1 says:

    Know your vehicle height BEFORE ya get behind the wheel… and learn to READ traffic signs…!! There’s enough warnings at this location for ya not act a fool.

  20. Larry says:

    close 1st street and make 2nd 2way

  21. Sick and Tired says:

    I, for one, have put all my guns through safety courses and are now trained not to randomly shoot people.


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