Infrared cameras will help 18-wheelers avoid hitting low I-35 bridge

TxDOT will also install infrared cameras in the same area as the sign to detect overheight vehicles (KXAN Photo/Amanda Dugan)
TxDOT will also install infrared cameras in the same area as the sign to detect overheight vehicles (KXAN Photo/Amanda Dugan)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Cesar Chavez bridge is one of the lowest bridges on Interstate 35 through downtown Austin, measuring at a height of 14 feet.

This isn’t tall enough for some vehicles that pass through the southbound lanes. Nearly a year ago, a semi became stuck after hitting the bridge. 

This can not only cause hours of delay for drivers but also be a costly incident. The Texas Department of Transportation is working to make that this doesn’t happen again by installing infrared cameras this Fall that spot overheight vehicles on southbound I-35 approaching downtown.

TxDOT has already installed signs on southbound I-35 warning drivers of overheight vehicles they will soon need to exit; however, these signs are not necessarily eye catching, says trucker driver, Eugene Meabon. “You see the signs, but they’re not lit up or anything.”

Digital signs with flashing beacons will also alert overheight trucks they will need to exit at Cesar Chavez Street (Dugan/KXAN)
Digital signs with flashing beacons will also alert overheight trucks they will need to exit at Cesar Chavez Street (KXAN Photo/Amanda Dugan)

The cameras will be installed on either side of southbound I-35, transmitting an infrared beam between the two.

When an overheight vehicle breaks the beam, they’ll take a picture and trigger a flashing message alerting any overheight vehicles that they need to leave the interstate at exit 234 due to low bridges ahead.

The system has been tested in Houston for the past two years on I-10 at Mercury and at Wirt to detect truck loads taller than 14 feet.

Truck driver Lee says the signs are especially important when changes are made on a road or a work zone is in place. “They do construction, they don’t change the height signs, but the lights are better… how you want to put it? They are a better warning than the tags.”

The cameras will be installed on I-35 near the exit ramps at Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, 12th-11th and 6th Street bridges, so there are several opportunities to warn an overheight vehicle they are approaching a low bridge at Cesar Chavez Street. This is just one of many steps to keep roads safe. “You have to know what you’re carrying, if you don’t you will get messed around,” says Meabon.

The cameras will not be installed on the northbound side of I-35, since there is no bridge over those lanes at Cesar Chavez Street. A study done by AAA in 2014 estimates that when a major highway closes during peak morning traffic could cost more than $680,000.

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