Railroad will make repairs to Kenmawr Bridge

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A railroad company has agreed to repair the deteriorated Kenmawr Bridge in Swissvale and Rankin, a year after being asked by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to do so.

The work may result in an increase in the current 6-ton weight limit, but the 104-year-old bridge will remain off limits to Port Authority buses, leaving detours in place on four routes until the bridge is replaced.

Norfolk Southern Railway, whose tracks pass under the bridge, is responsible for maintaining the superstructure and substructure. Under a long-standing Public Utility Commission order, the railroad is required to keep the bridge in condition to handle 15-ton vehicles.

The weight limit was lowered to 6 tons early last year, effectively closing it to anything heavier than a delivery van. That detoured Port Authority routes P7 McKeesport Flyer, 59 Mon Valley, P71 Swisshelm Park-Rankin Flyer, and 71 Edgewood Towne Centre, adding about 15 minutes to trip times.

PennDOT wrote the railroad in May 2013, requesting repairs that would raise the weight limit, but the railroad did not respond until last month, after the PUC ordered a field conference. The company agreed to make repairs that are projected to increase the limit to 10 tons.

"We won't know the exact weight posting until the repairs are completed and we analyze the bridge," said Dan Cessna, PennDOT district executive. "When we receive their design, we will be able to estimate what it will be. In our discussions with Port Authority they anticipate continuing to run buses in the current configuration and not use the bridge.

"Obviously, we want to see the project to replace the bridge as quickly as possible to improve this situation for all."

Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie confirmed the transit agency has no plans to change the affected routes.

Norfolk Southern spokesman Dave Pidgeon said the company expected to file repair plans with the PUC by the end of the week. There is no timetable for when the work will occur, he said.

PennDOT is planning an estimated $9 million replacement project for 2017 and 2018. The new bridge may be designed to accommodate a future extension of the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway, Mr. Cessna said at a recent public meeting.

The bridge carries Braddock Avenue, a major feeder to the Parkway East interchange in Swissvale and a main route to Kennywood Park in West Mifflin. An average of 15,000 vehicles per day use it.

The bridge is rated structurally deficient and functionally obsolete. On Pennsylvania's 100-point sufficiency scale, it grades at 2, one of the lowest scores in the state. The sidewalks on both sides are closed, and a narrow walkway straddles one of the travel lanes, separated from vehicles by a chain-link fence.

During a 2012 inspection, workers observed several overweight trucks crossing the bridge, at a time when the weight limit was double what it is now.

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868.

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