Low Clearance

On February 17, 2011 · 12 Comments

I’ve seen an unusual website mentioned on several aggregator and blogging websites called 11foot8.com. I’m sure that some of you’ve seen it too and it probably doesn’t need much introduction. It features an 11 foot 8 inch (3.56 metre) overpass on Gregson Street in Durham, North Carolina that has the propensity to peel the tops off trucks when unsuspecting drivers underestimate the clearance. It’s quite entertaining.

The situation in Durham inspired me to wonder about extremely low road clearances. Is it a common phenomenon? How does it arise typically? Is the instance in Durham particularly remarkable?

I wouldn’t say it’s a common situation but it’s certainly not rare. I found a wonderful resource from AITA Online, America’s Independent Truckers’ Association, that’s targeted at owner-operator, independent operator, and small-fleet truckers. They provide a list of "Low Clearances, Bridge Heights and below normal bridge clearances." They admit it’s not a definitive list although it’s a great starting point for anyone who needs to know about such things, all categorized neatly by state.

My unscientific semi-random sample demonstrated some interesting characteristics. Low clearances tended to happen in urban areas where transportation infrastructure gets bunched together tightly or in rural areas where there’s little traffic. I didn’t see much at all in the suburbs.

Some instanced involved covered bridges and tunnels through hillsides, but a much larger number seemed to involve railroad overpasses. That appeared to be true whether urban or rural and I don’t have a good explanation for it. Maybe these railroads predate trucks and back then they only required sufficient clearance for horse and rider?

Starting with the AITA list, I compiled the lowest of the low clearances. The Durham example does not make the cut. It doesn’t even come close. There are plenty of clearances in the 9-foot (2.74 m) range and lower. Gregson Street gets all the attention because it occurs in a highly visible area that happens to be near someone with an intense interest and a camera.

Lets look at a few of the more noteworthy examples.

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McFarlin Ave., east of Main St. in Henning, Tennessee has a listed height of 8’0″ (2.44 m) below this railroad track. I’m not sure of the vertical clearance of the Google Street View car and the driver probably had a similar concern. If you open the image on a separate page and check the Street View coverage you’ll notice that the images stop right before the bridge and then start back up again on the other side. There is a similar bridge on the next road crossing Main St. just a but further north so Henning is a remarkable place for low clearances.

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The small town of Railroad, Pennsylvania provides another wonderful instance heading north out of town on Main Street, Route 616. AITA listed this as 8’1″ (2.46 m) but the sign along the road clearly says 10’0″ (3.05 m). I found those kinds of exaggerations frequently in my small sample. I’m guessing that it’s better to underestimate the clearance height for the sake of safety. I also love the way the utility wires strung between poles on either side dip down and run through the tunnel rather than over it.

Once again it’s a railroad that creates the low clearance. While the tracks remain active it shares a right of way with the Heritage Rail Trail County Park.

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I found a great urban instance in Jacksonville, Florida. Look at this 3-layered mess! The top is Interstate 95. The middle is a railroad bridge (look closely and see the flatbeds with trailers). The bottom is N. Myrtle Ave., with a marked clearance of only 9’0″ (2.74 m). I’d love to drive that road!

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Finally, travel to Route 17 in Logan, West Virginia. This one is also 9’0″ (2.74 m) and covers a particularly long distance. There’s plenty of room for cars but I don’t see any trucks waiting at the intersection for good reason.

Do you have a favorite low clearance road? Please feel free to include map links in the comments.

On February 17, 2011 · 12 Comments

12 Responses to “Low Clearance”

  1. Richard says:


    A bit closer to home — just about any of the overpasses on Storrow Drive/Soldier’s Field Road in Boston; I think these two are favorites:



    Storrow Drive/Soldier’s Field Road is a parkway, originally constructed for recreational automobile traffic only; they’ve turned into major thoroughfares. Unfortunately, even with all the “NO TRUCKS” signs, people still manage to wedge box trucks under these bridges fairly frequently. September 1st is a favorite day for that, as all of the undergrads move into town with their UHauls. (I must confess to feeling a little sympathy for them — Boston is notoriously hard to navigate by car, and it’s easy to get lost and stay lost when you don’t know the city.)

  2. Bill Harris says:

    I can think of at least five low clearance bridges within five miles of me here in northern Delaware. Each one involves a road under railroad tracks. Not only are there low clearances but the road also narrows to the point that only one car can comfortable pass through. To make matters worse, the road surface dips under the bridges (I assume to increase the overhead clearance) which only makes the roads more susceptible to flooding. I’m not quite sure why the clearances are so low, but these are all located on old roads and I guess the bridges were built when traffic was lighter and trucks were smaller. Fortunately more modern roads have been built to bypass these low clearances, although they are still used for local traffic.

  3. Mark says:

    This one is a bridge just east of downtown Calgary. It’s listed as 2.0m, or 6’6″. It’s also notable for being beside the central bus garage for the city. Every now and then, a bus driver forgets what they are is driving and wedges a bus under the bridge.


  4. Peter says:

    Here is one not too far from me. I’m not sure of the clearance, but it’s definitely low, and note how extremely narrow it is. River Road is a lot busier than you might guess from the Google view.

  5. Alex says:

    I can beat those! Here’s Bulwara Road, going under the Western Distributor flyovers in Pyrmont, inner Sydney. 2.0 metres! I never believed it until I saw it for myself. Truly ridiculous.


  6. Robert says:

    The GW Parkway has a stone bridge clearance that is good for peeling a bus or truck top off about once every year or so. It’s two lanes each way, but buses and trucks are supposed to use the left lane as it is a difference of 3 ft. 2 in.


  7. Rich says:

    This is Peace Street in Raleigh, NC. While not as low as some of the others, it’s a major thoroughfare in downtown and also happens to be in the middle of a very steep incline. Tall trucks get stuck here semi-frequently, sometimes delaying rush hour traffic severely.



  8. Here’s a Seattle favorite. People get stuck under here all the time.
    Lynn Street Aqueduct, Washington Park Arboretum — http://goo.gl/0QvES
    Looks like the Street View truck didn’t traverse Lake Washington Blvd. through the Arboretum, perhaps because of this very overpass.

    This one, the Ruston Tunnel in Tacoma, no longer exists.

  9. Mike Lowe says:

    This is my favorite low road clearance. It’s 7’10” and one-lane. It’s a shortcut from River Road to fun in Gruene. My father-in-law’s pickup clears it by _maybe_ a foot in height and less in width. Even my Mazda Miata is tight in there.


  10. Peter says:

    Parkways in NY, CT, and NJ are notorious for low overpasses. On Long Island, where the Northern State Parkway goes under I.U. Willets Road, the listed overpass height on the right lane of the southbound side is – I kid you not – 6 feet, 6 inches!!

    (You can’t really make out the sign, but it’s really that low. And this is a MAJOR parkway, not some out-of-the-way side street!)


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