Elizabeth officials promise to oppose bridge restrictions

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 11:50 a.m.

Elizabeth borough officials are protesting PennDOT plans to post a 32-ton limit on the bridge carrying Route 51 over the Monongahela River between Elizabeth and West Elizabeth.

The posting will bar cement trucks (which weigh 33 tons loaded, according to PennDOT), dump trucks (36 tons) and tractor trailers (40 tons).

Borough officials learned of the plans from PennDOT District 11 staff.

“We're not going to let this go down without a fight,” council president Monica Glowinski said at Tuesday's council meeting.

Council adopted a resolution “in opposition to the establishment of weight limits on the Elizabeth Bridge due to the severe handicap the weight limits will put on the borough.”

Councilors were briefed by state Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township, who said the problem is not one of public safety.

“None of the bridges are going to come down,” Saccone said. “We're talking about extending the life of these bridges, reducing the weight.”

“And forcing traffic in all directions into Elizabeth,” Councilwoman Paula Stevens said.

Saccone suggested the state transportation department is trying to pressure lawmakers into passing a transportation bill that includes lifting the cap on the Oil Company Franchise Tax.

“I can't find anyone who really wants a 28-cent-a-gallon gas tax hike,” Saccone said, referring to comments made at five town meetings this year.

State Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport, said he is not surprised by PennDOT secretary Barry J. Schoch's decision.

“This is about public safety,” Brewster said. “The legislature failed to pass a transportation bill that provided enough funds to repair Pennsylvania's structurally deficient bridges.”

Glowinski said she was told by PennDOT District 11 staffer Stephanie Zolnak that the limit will take effect on Thursday.

PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan said the district is finishing a list of bridges that will have weight limits. It could be released on Wednesday.

Six state-maintained bridges will have weight limits in Mon-Yough communities. They and a county bridge in Munhall are on Schoch's list of 530 state and 470 county bridges to be posted.

Brewster, whose 45th District extends to Elizabeth Township but not Elizabeth borough, said “the list of weight-restricted bridges will continue to grow until the legislature provides enough support to repair them.”

Glowinski said Zolnak asked him if the restrictions will have an economic impact.

“It is a quality-of-life issue,” Glowinski replied. “We are a small, pedestrian town.”

Saccone said it appears PennDOT is acting “without knowing the impact on communities like Elizabeth Borough.”

The resolution written by Solicitor Pat McGrail outlined the impact on traffic congestion, loss of parking, damage to private residences, damage to sidewalks and negative impact on the business district.

Council approved the resolution, 4-0, with Glowinski, and councilwomen Robin Payne-Main, Paula Stevens and V. Ann Malady in favor. Council vice president Robin Miller abstained because she is employed by PennDOT. Larry Duvall and Paul Shaner were absent.

The likely detour for southbound trucks will be Route 837 to the Clairton-Glassport Bridge, then to Glassport-Elizabeth Road, Lincoln Boulevard and McKeesport Road and N. Second Avenue, and then a left turn onto Market Street in downtown Elizabeth.

“You'd almost have to make Market a no-parking street,” resident Nancy Rowe told council.

Trucks have been a problem without the new weight limit.

“They've already taken out half of my porch,” Payne-Main said.

Saccone said bills are being proposed in Harrisburg to deal with the bridge issue, including his proposal to open 300,000 acres of state forest to natural gas development.

“These postings appear as though they may have an impact on shale operations across the commonwealth,” said Steve Forde, spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition. “We are analyzing the listings to determine the extent of just how consequential this announcement may be.”

Forde said “tightly regulated development” has produced more than $1.8 billion in tax revenues and more than $400 million in impact fee revenues over the past two years.

“Additionally, our industry has invested over $600 million in road construction and repairs,” Forde said. “Without question, shale development continues to play an increasingly important role in addressing many longstanding infrastructure issues in Pennsylvania.”

Saccone said there have been efforts to link bridge funding to selling the state liquor stores, another area of disagreement with Brewster.

“The transportation bill was tied to a failed liquor privatization bill in the legislature and this was unacceptable and irresponsible,” Brewster said.

Brewster said he will work with his colleagues to pass a comprehensive transportation bill that properly funds bridge and road repairs when the Senate begins a new session next month.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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