PennDOT to increase weight restrictions on 1,000 Pennsylvania bridges

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The maze for truckers caused by weight restrictions on more than 2,200 Pennsylvania bridges is about to get more complicated.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation announced Thursday that it will place new or lower weight limits on about 1,000 bridges, including the Liberty Bridge in Downtown Pittsburgh, the Elizabeth Bridge over the Monongahela River and the Koppel Bridge in Beaver County.

The bridges that are getting new restrictions "are not unsafe," PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch said. About half of the 1,000 bridges on the list already have weight limits and face further reductions.

The limits, which will be posted over the next four to five months starting next week, will mostly affect heavy truck traffic, Mr. Schoch said.

The Legislature's failure to enact transportation funding legislation in June has left the department with insufficient funding to repair nearly 4,500 bridges that are rated "structurally deficient," he said. Weight limits will extend the operational life of some of those bridges by reducing the wear and tear from heavy trucks.

PG graphic: Approximate vehicle weights
(Click image for larger version)

"For months I've been explaining to Pennsylvanians and to lawmakers that there are very real consequences to not enacting a transportation funding plan," Mr. Schoch said.

"Without additional revenues anticipated in the future, I have to make the safe and responsible decision to reduce how much weight is crossing these deteriorating bridges."

Mr. Schoch said that until now, Pennsylvania has been "one of the most liberal, if not the most liberal, states in the nation in waiting until the last possible moment" before applying weight restrictions to bridges.

Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of structurally deficient state-owned bridges with 4,479. It ranks 35th in the nation with the percentage of deficient bridges that are posted or closed. After the new restrictions are put in place, Pennsylvania will rank 27th in the nation, according to PennDOT.

"We have an old system," Mr. Schoch said. "We have 25,000 bridges. The average age is 51 years old. We have to try to keep this system open as long as possible."

Bridges considered in poor condition will have their weight limit reduced by 10 percent. Bridges with more severe deficiencies or that carry 500 or more trucks per day will get a 20 percent reduction.

The Liberty Bridge falls into the latter category, and the limit will be reduced from 40 tons to 32 tons, he said. That would bar loaded cement trucks (about 33 tons), loaded dump trucks (36 tons) and loaded tractor-trailers (40 tons), according to PennDOT.

In Allegheny County, 24 state-owned bridges and 22 locally owned spans will be posted. Most are smaller bridges, but the list includes a bridge on Ohio River Boulevard over Spruce Run in Ben Avon; the Boulevard of the Allies bridge over the CSX tracks and bike trail in Oakland; the Mission Street Bridge on the South Side; and a Brownsville Road bridge over the Wheeling & Lake Erie tracks in Baldwin Borough.

"It's going to have a big effect on manufacturing, on the trucking industry," Mr. Schoch said of the postings. It also will cause increased construction costs for PennDOT, which will face more detours in moving heavy equipment.

Steve Forde, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said the bridge postings "appear as though they may have an impact on shale operations across the commonwealth, and we are analyzing the listings to determine the extent of just how consequential today's announcement may be."

The Legislature failed to pass a transportation funding bill before recessing at the end of June and may take up the issue in the fall.

The Senate passed a bill that would generate $2.5 billion per year for roads, bridges and transit, but it stalled in the House. Gov. Tom Corbett has proposed a $1.8 billion annual funding package.

Mr. Schoch said the postings would occur regardless of what the Legislature does this fall. But when bridges are funded and within two years of being reconstructed, the weight limits may be removed.

Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House Republicans, who have balked at the size of tax and fee increases proposed by the Senate, said they would soon offer legislation "to deal with the actual critical needs of our infrastructure."

"Now we have a defined problem, and that's what we're going to focus on," he said.

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Jon Schmitz:, 412-263-1868 and on Twitter: @pgtraffic. First Published August 22, 2013 3:00 PM


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