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Elizabeth balks at bridge assignment

Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
The Public Utility Commission rejected Elizabeth's appeal and ruled that borough police must enforce the weight limit on the Route 51 Elizabeth Bridge.

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Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 4:26 a.m.
 

Elizabeth officials are seeking relief from the Public Utility Commission's plan to have borough police enforce the weight limit that PennDOT has imposed on the Elizabeth Bridge.

“They wanted us to be responsible for the enforcement of the posted limit,” Elizabeth council president Monica Glowinski said. “We just do not have the capacity to do that.”

And as a result of a bureaucratic mistake, the borough will have to repeat its appeal of the PUC's request.

A letter issued by PUC secretary Rosemary Chiavetta on Sept. 16 proposed that “Elizabeth borough and West Elizabeth borough and/or the Pennsylvania State Police enforce the posted maximum load limit established herein, enlisting the assistance of the Commonwealth Weight Enforcement teams, if necessary.”

The PUC is getting into the act because of concern for Norfolk Southern and CSX tracks under the bridge. CSX trains run through Elizabeth; Norfolk Southern runs through West Elizabeth.

The burden would be on Elizabeth police to enforce the limit — 32 tons on single trucks and 40 on combination vehicles — because they patrol both boroughs.

“The result of this enforcement and the related detour is heavy commercial traffic through the borough, which has already caused significant property and economic damages to borough citizens,” Elizabeth Solicitor Pat McGrail wrote in an appeal to the PUC dated Oct. 16.

McGrail's letter and other information is posted on the PUC's website with the docket number M-2013-2382620.

The docket was established less than two weeks from the date that PennDOT posted weight restrictions on the bridge.

Glowinski said the borough has not heard back from the PUC, but PennDOT since has made a complaint that was noted in a subsequent PUC letter.

“We have determined that (the earlier) letter inadvertently failed to make the Pennsylvania State Police a party to this proceeding,” Chiavetta wrote in a letter dated Monday.

“Considering the commission is issuing a corrected secretarial letter that includes an additional party to this proceeding, the commission will take no action on Elizabeth borough's petition,” Chiavetta wrote.

“However, Elizabeth borough may file a new petition for appeal from staff action with regard to the corrected secretarial letter.”

In any case, the borough and solicitor argue the onus for enforcement falls on state police.

“Municipal police jurisdiction does not extend to a state highway except under specific circumstances,” McGrail wrote in her first appeal.

“Instead, enforcement of the weight limit falls squarely within the responsibility of the Pennsylvania State Police.”

A hearing could take place but not until all parties comply with the order.

“Upon completion of the work herein ordered, a formal hearing be held, if requested, to elicit testimony from all affected parties relative to the costs incurred by the parties in performing work in accordance with this letter,” Chiavetta wrote.

At the borough council meeting on Tuesday, officials expressed concern over the willingness of state police to assist in monitoring the weight limit.

State police officials in Pittsburgh and Washington, where Troop B's headquarters cover the Belle Vernon barracks, could not be reached for comment at presstime.

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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