Damage to 2 spans portends I-79 delays

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Around noon on March 21, a truck hauling a huge piece of logging equipment on a rural road in Butler County tried to pass under twin bridges that carry Interstate 79 over the road.

The logging machine was too tall, and it struck the facade of the first bridge with enough force to snap the metal reinforcing bars in a concrete beam. The truck continued on, and the machine smashed into the second bridge, doing more damage to another beam.

The crash has forced the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to close lanes on both sides of I-79, promising a season of delays for travelers as it makes emergency repairs to the bridges. The $500,000 project is expected to continue into August.

"We're definitely asking for everybody's patience," said Brian Steffy, PennDOT assistant construction engineer.

The truck and logging machine are owned by Row Equipment Sales and Rental Inc. of Patterson, Ga., according to Officer David Sitler of Lancaster Township police, who investigated the crash. The driver, identified as James Lee Jr. of Sylvania, Ga., was not cited, he said.

PennDOT expects to recover repair cost from the company's insurer, Mr. Steffy said.

Officer Sitler said he didn't know how fast the truck was going, but that it was too fast to make it under the bridges. "He was traveling too fast and it got to bouncing. The truck didn't hit anything. The piece of equipment he was carrying struck the bridges," he said.

The crash occurred as the truck traveled east on East Lancaster Road. The road slopes down at the bridges, and the equipment hit the front facings of both bridges, badly damaging cross beams, Mr. Steffy said.

A contractor, Thornberry Construction of West Sunbury, will have to cut out the bridge decks over the beams, remove and replace them along with the parapets, and rebuild and seal the decks, he said.

The damage has closed the right lane southbound and the left lane northbound. In addition to traffic backups, there have been at least two serious crashes approaching the work zone.

East Lancaster Road will close today and is expected to reopen May 24 after new beams have been placed.

A detour is available for I-79 drivers who want to avoid work zone congestion. Northbound traffic can exit at Little Creek Road west to Route 19 and north to Route 488 in Portersville to return to I-79.

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.

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