A longtime worker for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation recently brought up to me the dangers of driving too fast over the 30 feet of metal grates in the middle of the New Bedford-Fairhaven bridge, and lamented that it's a risk of which far too few drivers are actually aware.

"No one is aware of the dangerous situation they place themselves in whenever they accelerate the gas while their vehicle is directly on top of those grates, when they're either wet from the rain or icy and cold in the winter, because the cars or motorcycles will fishtail," he told me.

We reached out to MassDOT to get the official word on these grates. Are they exceptionally dangerous? It turns out, you should have no issues if you are just following the speed limit and using caution.

“The existing steel grid decking on the bridge has a serrated riding surface, which is designed to provide adequate skid resistance for normal wet-weather driving conditions,” said MassDOT spokesperson Judith Reardon Riley. “It is important to note that all bridge decks are more susceptible to icing before roadway pavement, and that drivers should always use caution when driving in inclement weather conditions.”

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Still, we have seen where speeding on those grates, in any weather conditions, can lead to terrible circumstances. In October of 2019, 95-year-old Abel Grace of Mattapoisett was killed when a vehicle he was driving swerved on the bridge and collided with a linen truck. Speeding on those grates may have played a part in his death.

“The deceased driver was speeding and operating erratically when he swerved into oncoming traffic,” said Gregg Miliote, spokesperson for the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office. “There was light rain that day and it’s possible the wet grates played a role in him losing control of the vehicle, but his high speed and erratic driving were clearly the main factor.”

The MassDOT worker just wants to make sure that people are aware of the risks if they drive careless across the bridge.

"That bridge is one of the busiest bridges in the Commonwealth. It's a public service to get the word out to the people, because most are completely unaware of the hidden dangers of those grates," he said.

In all my years here, this is the first time I'm hearing about this potentially dangerous condition. I'm also very curious why the Commonwealth hasn't posted specific signs warning motorists not to hit the gas while on wet or icy grates?

"The District will investigate the suitability to add signage to the bridge approaches to alert motorists of the condition," Riley told us.

So when the weather is bad – or even when it's not – and you're driving over the grates of the New Bedford-Fairhaven Bridge, be sure to use extra caution.

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