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New transportation bill doesn't spell end to bridge weight limits

| Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
The Birmingham Bridge is among the first projects to be repaired using money from the recently passed transportation bill.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
The Birmingham Bridge is among the first projects to be repaired using money from the recently passed transportation bill.

Pennsylvania's weight-restricted bridges won't get an immediate reprieve despite the passage of a $2.3 billion transportation bill, PennDOT officials said this week.

Weight restrictions are likely to remain on more than 1,000 bridges as PennDOT officials prioritize which bridges and roads will be fixed first.

“We're going to create a prioritized program from a needs-based perspective. We want to have a big bump in projects next construction season with a good mix of resurfacing and bridge projects,” said PennDOT District 11 Executive Dan Cessna, who oversees Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties. “With the bridges, nothing changes there. It's not like we're going to jump and do those first. It will be a consideration. It doesn't mean they would need to jump to the top of the list.”

Cessna said it's likely weight restrictions will remain until the bridges are fixed.

While the fix-it list isn't finalized, Cessna said some projects are ready to go. Among the first to be fixed locally will be the Birmingham Bridge, connecting the South Side to Uptown, Route 60 in Moon from I-79 to I-376, and work on I-376 in Lawrence County.

Repairs on the Birmingham Bridge that had been on hold awaiting funding will proceed — as early as spring — as a result of the transportation bill, Cessna said.

The law would spend $1.65 billion per year for highways and bridges, and as much as $497 million for mass transit. It relies primarily on increasing wholesale gas taxes that supporters said would be passed on to consumers at a cost of about a nickel per gallon during five years. It would increase vehicle registration and driver's license fees.

Jim Runk, president of the motor truck association which supported the law, said many of his members are eager to have bridges fixed so weight restrictions can be lifted.

“I have a number of members with bridges right outside their location (that are weight restricted). To them, that's a big deal because they have to go 20 miles or more out of their way,” Runk said.

PennDOT has listed thousands of projects across the state on their website that could be funded through the new law during the next 10 years. That's good news to Rich Barcaskey, executive director of the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania. Contractors that are part of his association depend on PennDOT for about 80 percent of their work, he said.

“There were some members saying they might have to lay off up to 40 percent of their workforce if this bill didn't pass. The first time the bill failed in the House, one guy told me he set in motion the process to sell his concrete paver,” Barcaskey said. “Now they'll be hiring. That's an important component that people have missed with this funding and where it's going. There's going to be jobs.”

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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