Engineering the Can-opener Bridge: 11 foot 8 inches of Mayhem


Many have become “internet famous” over the course of the connected age. From Bubb Rubb to Justin Bieber and PewDiePie to Psy (you know, the Gangnam Style guy), many people have gained fame from their visibility online.

As far as I know, there is only one bridge to become internet famous. One bridge in Durham North Carolina, also known as the can opener, has taken so many casualties over the years that it too has become “internet famous”.


OVERHEIGHT MUST TURN from Hunter Atkins on Vimeo.


The Can-opener is a pretty typical railroad bridge over a street, except for one key dimension. Where highway overpasses are usually 16’ between the bottom of the bridge and the road surface, and a minimum surface-level “low bridge” clearance is 13 feet 6 inches, but the Can-opener is only 11 feet 8 inches (raised 8 inches in 2019 to 12 feet 4 inches). It was built before there were minimum clearance standards. This low clearance means that a LOT of trucks rip their roof off on the bottom of the bridge, hence the “Can-opener” nickname.

The state and city have tried to help. There are signs and sensors and warnings to trucks that are too high. It has blinking signs that say “low clearance” and “over height must turn,” to no avail. They have raised the bridge, which is no small undertaking for a train bridge. People still crash.

Currently, there is no better solution. The sewer main is directly below the road surface and they cannot go higher with the bridge. The folks of Durham have got lemons, and they’re going to make lemonade. There’s a website and YouTube channel dedicated to the mayhem caused by the Can-opener, called You can even buy “crash art” souvenirs on eBay, memorializing all of the mangled truck roofs consumed by this 11 foot 8-inch high engineering nightmare.


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Adam Beck

Director of Marketing at CADENAS PARTsolutions | A Marketing graduate from the Miami University, Farmer School of Business in Oxford Ohio, Adam has years of experience in marketing and design for a variety of industries.