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Westmoreland

Latrobe police plan truck checkpoint to enforce bridge detour

Jeff Himler
| Tuesday, March 13, 2018, 1:36 a.m.
A northbound vehicle on Route 981 in Latrobe prepares to exit a PennDOT work zone on the bridge across Loyalhanna Creek on March 12, 2018.
Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
A northbound vehicle on Route 981 in Latrobe prepares to exit a PennDOT work zone on the bridge across Loyalhanna Creek on March 12, 2018.
According to Latrobe police, the white concrete pylon on Route 981 in Latrobe, seen at center below the 'Do Not Enter' sign on March 12, 2018, was missing its top lighting fixture after being struck by a tractor-trailer that headed north over a bridge across Loyalhanna Creek, in violation of PennDOT work zone traffic restrictions.
Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
According to Latrobe police, the white concrete pylon on Route 981 in Latrobe, seen at center below the 'Do Not Enter' sign on March 12, 2018, was missing its top lighting fixture after being struck by a tractor-trailer that headed north over a bridge across Loyalhanna Creek, in violation of PennDOT work zone traffic restrictions.

Latrobe police will head to the south end of town this week in an attempt to head off the many big rigs that have been ignoring posted traffic restrictions and entering a PennDOT work zone on the Route 981 bridge across the Loyalhanna Creek.

Police Chief James Bumar said drivers routinely have violated a ban on trucks heading north across the bridge since PennDOT contractors resumed work in late February on a project to rehabilitate the span with new pavement, sidewalks, side barriers and lighting. During the construction, northbound traffic other than trucks is reduced to a single lane across the bridge while all southbound traffic is being detoured.

Bumar said Latrobe police are planning a trial effort, possibly beginning Wednesday, to keep northbound trucks from getting to the bridge — by stopping them near the city's southern border. Police will turn around all trucks headed for destinations in the city other than Castle Co-Packers, a plant located just before the bridge.

“We're going to try that for a week and monitor when the heavy times are for the truck traffic,” the chief said. An officer who volunteers for overtime duty will man the truck checkpoint with PennDOT covering the cost.

So far, bridge work crews and passing motorists have alerted police when trucks have crossed onto the span.

“Every 45 minutes we're getting a call that a truck is going across the bridge,” Bumar said. “We're chasing trucks all day.”

With descriptions provided by the callers, police have been able to track down and cite most of the violators, Bumar said. But that hasn't eased traffic problems on the bridge.

On Friday, he said, one rig that attempted a sharp turn while exiting the bridge struck and knocked the top lighting fixture from a concrete pylon at the point where Route 981 splits into Main Street, for northbound traffic, and Depot Street, for southbound vehicles. Also that day, traffic was halted when a tractor-trailer couldn't make it across the bridge and had to back up.

Bridge traffic was tied up once more Monday afternoon, Bumar said, when another rig got snagged on the pylon. “It got hung up on it and had to be pulled off by a heavy duty wrecker,” he said.

City officials discussed plans for replacing the pylon, but Bumar would prefer to have it removed.

“Why it's there, I don't know,” he said, expressing concern that it presents a liability risk for the city.

Public Works Director Michael Gray noted PennDOT has posted 11 signs between Route 981 and the bridge to alert truck drivers that they can't cross the span.

“I think they're not paying attention to the signs, they're just going by their GPS,” Bumar later said.

If signs can be placed warning trucks that they're approaching an “active work zone,” the fine violators could face would double, Gray said.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622, jhimler@tribweb.com or via Twitter @jhimler_news.

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