Heavy trucks that currently use Route 65 through Ben Avon are being forced to detour across the McKees Rocks Bridge all the way to Interstate 79 to avoid a bridge with new weight restrictions.
Truck detours will soon be in place on other major routes in Allegheny County, including Route 51 in Elizabeth Borough, Route 48 in Elizabeth Township, U.S. Route 30 in Findlay and the Liberty Bridge in Downtown Pittsburgh.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is slapping new restrictions on 24 state-owned bridges in the county as part of what it calls an effort to reduce wear-and-tear and extend bridge life at a time of diminished funding.
While the limits won't directly impact most drivers in their teensy 11/2-ton sedans, the longer hauls could eventually drive up consumer prices and increase truck traffic along the detours, said Dan Cessna, PennDOT District 11 executive, at a briefing Monday.
PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch announced last month that 1,000 bridges across the state would get reduced limits in the wake of legislative inaction on transportation funding.
"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," he said.
The Route 65 bridge over Spruce Run and Spruce Street in Ben Avon is getting a 32-ton limit this week, with a 40-ton limit on combination vehicles such as tractor-trailers.
Of the 24 state bridges in Allegheny County that are getting new limits, only three are being posted at 25 tons or less, meaning the others will still accommodate fire trucks, buses and garbage trucks. Weight limits on the others will primarily affect tractor-trailers, dump trucks, cement trucks and snow plows.
"We may be running more circuitous routes," said Ron Uriah, vice president of safety and risk management for Pitt Ohio, based in the Strip District, which hauls a variety of business and consumer commodities through the region. Longer trips means more fuel consumption, which could lead to higher prices, he said.
Asked if the weight limits were a gimmick intended to pressure legislators to pony up more funding, Mr. Cessna said, "Absolutely not. We need to be sure we can ensure the safety and integrity of the bridges."
PennDOT has steadily reduced the number of structurally deficient bridges in Pennsylvania and Allegheny County in recent years with the help of federal stimulus funds and a state bond issue for bridge rehabilitation, two sources that are no longer available.
"We can't continue that trend given the available funding," Mr. Cessna said.
He said state spending on highway and bridge construction has fallen from a peak of $2.7 billion during the stimulus to $1.6 billion this year and will fall even further without legislative action.