33 bridges in Allegheny County may face weight restrictions, PennDOT says

Warns that limits are likely if Legislature doesn't approve increased funding

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Thirty-three state bridges in Allegheny County are at risk of getting new weight restrictions, ranging in size from the massive Liberty Bridge in Downtown Pittsburgh to an 8-foot culvert on a lonely road in West Deer.

Five of those already are posted with limits ranging from 15 to 32 tons and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials, trying to sell a proposal for more funding, say additional restrictions are likely, here and throughout the state, if the Legislature doesn't act.

PennDOT released a list of 49 bridges that it owns in Allegheny County that are structurally deficient and at risk of further deterioration that might keep heavy trucks and buses off of them. Only 16 of those were funded for replacement or rehabilitation.

No money currently is available for the others, some of which are on busy arteries including Wexford-Bayne Road in Marshall, Logans Ferry Road in Plum and Route 30 in North Fayette.

Department officials say none of the bridges are unsafe, but they are concerned about the potential costs and inconvenience that would occur if they were made off-limits to heavier vehicles.

PG graphic: Detailed look at the 33 state bridges at risk of getting new weight restrictions
(Click image for larger version)

At present, just eight of the 1,180 state-owned bridges in Allegheny County have weight restrictions, according to the state's bridge inventory. The limits range from 15 to 32 tons. Of the roughly 2,600 locally owned bridges in the county, about 50 are weight-restricted.

Lou Ruzzi, district bridge engineer for PennDOT, said partially loaded school or Port Authority buses would exceed a 15-ton limit. Loaded fire trucks can weigh 20 to 30 tons. A fully loaded tractor-trailer would be "in the 37-ton range," he said.

Illustrating the potential impact of such restrictions, the Port Authority was forced to detour and eventually revise four bus routes when a 6-ton weight limit was imposed on the Kenmawr Bridge in Swissvale this year. The bridge is jointly owned by the borough and Norfolk Southern Railway.

The average detour for a restricted or closed bridge is 8 miles, state Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said in a recent presentation to bridge professionals here.

Bridges are inspected at least every two years, and those with significant deterioration are checked annually, or more often if warranted, Mr. Ruzzi said. If a bridge needs a weight restriction, PennDOT tends to use the highest acceptable limit, while some states take a more cautious approach.

Mr. Schoch said that policy might have to change unless PennDOT gets more funding. About 600 PennDOT bridges are restricted statewide, a number that could rise to nearly 1,400, he said.

The types of deterioration commonly found on older bridges are rusted steel members and concrete that has broken or popped loose because of rusting steel reinforcing bars, Mr. Ruzzi said.

On the Liberty Bridge, which is undergoing an in-depth inspection, "we've got a few steel members that are right on the border" of forcing a weight restriction, he said. "There may be some that we're able to fix and some that we're not able to fix."

Gov. Tom Corbett held a news conference under the 2,700-foot-long bridge last week to press his case for more transportation funding. The cost of rehabilitating it is estimated at $40 million to $60 million, but PennDOT doesn't have the money.

Mr. Corbett has proposed removing a cap on the tax paid by gasoline wholesalers to generate up to $1.8 billion in new annual transportation funding.

A bill passed by the state Senate this month does the same thing but also increases a variety of driver fees and traffic fines to generate an estimated $2.5 billion a year. The measure is pending in the state House.

Other state bridges in Allegheny County that are at risk for weight restrictions are on Saxonburg Boulevard in Shaler and Indiana Township, Little Pine Creek Road in Shaler, Church Lane in Indiana Township, Big Sewickley Creek Road in Bell Acres and Economy and North Branch Road in North Fayette. (The bridge in Economy is just over the Beaver County line but is maintained by PennDOT's Allegheny County unit.)

Also, Leechburg Road in Plum, Bull Creek Road in Fawn, Old Frankstown Road in Monroeville, Ella Hollow Road and Route 906-Monongahela Road in Forward, Lardintown Road and Millerstown Road in Fawn, Shenot Road in Bradford Woods, Santiago Road in North Fayette, Ripple Road in White Oak, and Russelton-Dorseyville Road and Bryson Road in West Deer.

Also, Lesnett Road in Upper St. Clair, Walton Road in Jefferson Hills, Glass Run Road in Hays, Fern Hollow Road in Sewickley Heights, Pleasantville Road in Harrison, Thompson Run Road in Wilkins, Noblestown Road in Collier, Potato Garden Run Road in Findlay, Streets Run Road in Baldwin Borough and Sugargrove Road in Crescent.

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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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