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New bridge weight limits affect Valley

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
A tractor-trailer crosses the Elizabeth Bridge in the north bound lane of route 51 on Tuesday, September 3,2013.
Jim Ference | Trib Total Media
This tractor-trailer, which crossed the Elizabeth Bridge in the south bound lane of Route 51 in September 2013, no longer is allowed on the span because of the weight limits posted in December. Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission has given its blessing to a $17 million rehabilitation of the bridge.

Late last month, PennDOT announced that scores of bridges across the state would face new weight restrictions.

Those restrictions are leading tractor-trailer operators to seek detours around the affected spans. The detours will affect businesses in the Mon Valley.

The Elizabeth Bridge, which carries Route 51 across the Monongahela River, now has a 32-ton limit. There were previously no weight limits and as recently as July – months after its latest inspection – was not deemed structurally deficient by PennDOT.

The restriction means that loaded cement trucks, which weigh 33 tons; dump trucks, 36 tons; and tractor trailers, 40 tons, would have to exit Route 51 before crossing the bridge.

Joe Vesely, vice president of Vesely Brothers Moving & Storage Inc. in Rostraver Township, said a 40-ton vehicle is maximum weight allowed without permits.

“To reduce that by seven tons, I would think that would be substantial,” Vesely said.

Vesely said weight limits on the Elizabeth Bridge will create some problems for his business.

The company will likely use the Mon/Fayette Expressway, bypassing the bridge and connecting the Valley with Route 51 in Jefferson Borough.

While he does not think that detour will add time to his trucks' schedule, it will add tolls to the cost of moving.

Otherwise, Vesely vehicles would have to take Interstate 70 to I-79 north, and then the Parkway into Pittsburgh. Another detour would involve I-70 to the turnpike.

Those alternatives would add time and tolls, he noted.

The bridge restrictions will add to delays caused by construction on the Liberty and Squirrel Hill tunnels, Vesely said.

“The city is going to be very hard to access,” he said.

Vesely questioned the timing of the bridge restrictions.

“If these tests were done five or six months ago, why is it that the restrictions are just being placed now?” Vesely said.

“If they knew there was an unsafe bridge or a tonnage issue, they should have done something immediately. Were they waiting for an accident to happen?”

Joe Slaska, manager of the Rite Aid in Elizabeth, said the trucking industry will be dealing with the weight restrictions throughout the state. He said Rite Aid's distribution center will deal with bridge restrictions throughout the area, including the Elizabeth Bridge.

“This is something that a lot of businesses would have to deal with,” said Slaska, adding he is unsure if deliveries will be delayed.

Slaska recalled detour issues for his and other area businesses when the Boston Bridge was closed during construction that culminated last year.

Trucks coming off Route 51 to avoid the bridge could pass Rite Aid.

“We're fortunate that we're right off the ramp, so we get a lot of business that way,” Slaska said.

Orrie Rockwell, owner of Rockwell's Red Lion, said deliveries to his restaurant in downtown Elizabeth are generally made in box trucks, not tractor-trailers.

But he noted that increased traffic downtown could eventually bring additional customers.

“Any traffic is better than no traffic,” Rockwell said. “But the streets are tight, so it might be difficult for them to park those big trucks and stop.

“But if they drive by and see we are here, they come back another day and bring their family.”

The West Newton Bridge has a 36-ton limit, except for combination vehicles which can weigh up to 40 tons.

An average, fully-loaded tractor trailer weighs 40 tons, PennDOT District 12 spokeswoman Valerie Peterson said.

Thus the new weight restriction on that span will likely have minimal affect on downtown West Newton.

“Weight restriction on any bridge leading into our towns is a concern for the community and businesses, and the West Newton Bridge is no exception,” said Gina Lynn, executive director of the Greater Rostraver Chamber of Commerce. “Many of the businesses in that area rely on deliveries and supplies via tractor trailer-truck, and a weight restriction could cause negative effects.

“A longer, detoured route could mean higher prices that may be passed on to the consumer and could even add delays with delivery time.

“Hearing that the weight restrictions on the West Newton Bridge will permit continued delivery truck activity is certainly good news for the businesses and residents in that area.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-684-2642.

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