11 Foot 8 Inches: The Infamous ‘Can Opener’ Bridge

Dec 17, 2016 8 comments

At 11 foot 8 inches, the Norfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass, located in Durham, North Carolina, United States, is a bit too short. The federal government recommends that bridges on public roads should have a clearance of at least 14 feet. But when this railroad trestle was built in the 1940s, there were no standards for minimum clearance. As a result, trucks would frequently hit the bridge and get its roof scrapped off.

Durhan resident Jürgen Henn has been witnessing these crashes for years from across the street where he worked. Wishing to share these hilarious mishaps with the rest of the world, Henn set up a video camera in April 2008 and began recording them for his ever popular website 11foot8.com. By the end of 2015, more than one hundred trucks had their tops violently ripped off. These scalping videos, which are also available on his YouTube channel, have racked up millions of views bringing this particular bridge —nicknamed ‘the can opener’— a fair amount of international fame.


The world’s largest ‘can opener’. Photo credit: Mark Clifton/Flickr

As Jürgen Henn explains in his website, the bridge cannot be raised because doing so would require the tracks to be raised for several miles to adjust the incline. North Carolina Railroad doesn’t want to pay for the enormous expense it would entail. The bridge cannot be lowered either because there is a major sewer line running only four feet under the street.

Instead, the city authorities installed an alert system that detects when an over-height truck tries to pass under and flashes yellow warning lights several feet ahead of the bridge. But many drivers either do not pay attention or fail to heed the warning, and crash into the bridge. The railroad department, who owns the bridge, installed a heavy steel crash beam in front of the bridge that takes most of the impact, protecting the actual structure of the train trestle. This crash beam is hit so often that it had to be replaced at least once.

As far as both parties are concerned —the city of Durham and North Carolina Railroad— adequate steps have been taken to solve the problem. The railroad authorities' concern is with the bridge and the rails above, not the trucks. Hence, the beam. The city, on the other hand, has posted prominent “low clearance” signs from 3 blocks away leading up to the trestle, over and above the automatic warning system that is triggered by vehicles that are too tall.

Apparently, these measures are not enough to prevent accidents. On average there is one crash every month.

When Henn interviewed a few drivers as they deflated their tires to lower their vehicles enough to free them, some told him that they didn’t know their trucks’ heights, while others insisted they didn’t see the signs.

Durham officials are now trying out a new tactic. A few months ago, they installed a traffic signal at the intersection before the bridge, and hooked up the height sensor to it. When an over-height truck approaches the intersection, the light turns red, and stays red for a long time. The light eventually turns green, but the city hopes that the long delay will give the drivers enough time to realize their truck will not fit under the bridge. Unfortunately for the drivers, and to the delight of the rest, the bridge continues to shave the tops of over-height vehicles.

Here is a compilation of some of the best crashes. I bet you can’t watch this without laughing.


Photo credit: Mark Clifton/Flickr


Photo credit: 11foot8.com

Sources: 99percent Invisible / Citylab / Vox / Indy week / Wikipedia / 11foot8.com


  1. Why don't they lower the road?

    1. Quoted from the article above:

      'The bridge cannot be lowered either because there is a major sewer line running only four feet under the street.'

    2. 'Cos it's not nearly as funny that way. :D

  2. Yeah it's "funny" enough when it just damages the truck. Will it be "funny" when a following van loaded with pre-school kids slams into the rear of the suddenly stopped stuck truck?

  3. The solution is to put an 8 foot bar across the road right there. This would make it very clear to trucks that they could not pass and they wouldnt bother to try.

  4. In some city where I used to live, maybe Boston, they hung a heavy rubber sign that would slap too-tall vehicles and warn them.

  5. That height detector needs work!

    1) The height detector and its flashing lights don't work every time, or come on only at, or just, before impact when it's too late for the driver to react.

    2) There is apparently no useful detector and warning lights for those making the right turn to go under the bridge.

    In addition, you'd think that the local Penske and Budget truck rentals would make sure these drivers know better, but apparently not! These two companies seem to make up a large portion of victims.

  6. Another crash-prone bridge in in Needles CA. It's even lower (8 ft) with warning signs but RVs and trucks still try for it.


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