New weight restrictions on Liberty Bridge, Boulevard of the Allies
HARRISBURG — Hauling equipment, transporting goods and fighting fires likely became harder in Pennsylvania on Thursday when PennDOT slapped weight restrictions on more than 1,000 deteriorating bridges across the state.
Some, such as Pittsburgh's Liberty Bridge, are along key arteries.
“It's definitely going to be a problem for anyone in the construction business. It impacts us, no doubt,” said Vince Tutino, president of Lindy Paving, whose business hauls asphalt and other heavy materials, including stone. “It's more time and money.”
Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch announced the restrictions as Gov. Tom Corbett's administration prepares to push lawmakers next month for increased transportation money to fix aging infrastructure. The weight limits affect hundreds of bridges in Western Pennsylvania.
PennDOT released a partial list of limits because inspectors are still evaluating some bridges.
“Without additional revenues anticipated in the future, I have to make the safe and responsible decision to reduce how much weight is crossing these deteriorating bridges,” Schoch said.
Business owners are not worrying alone. Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Mike Huss said weight limits could present a problem for fire trucks that weigh up to 30 tons, though the city must wait to see the restrictions.
“(Even in emergency situations) we generally follow weight restrictions,” Huss said. “We'll evaluate them and find routes around them.”
Spokesman Jim Ritchie said Port Authority officials need time to review the potential effect.
“It could be an issue for us,” he said.
Schoch said restrictions are necessary because the Legislature did not approve a bill to boost transportation revenue before recessing on June 30. The bridges are not unsafe, he said, but reduced weight limits will slow their deterioration.
The action comes as many schools prepare to open, weeks before the Legislature returns to session. A $2.5 billion transportation bill would have uncapped the wholesale gas tax and increased license and registration fees. It won Senate approval but died in the House, where conservatives argued it would lead to a gas tax increase.
Corbett is expected to push the proposal again when lawmakers return Sept. 23.
“Who actually believes that if we passed the bill in June, that any work would be done on any of these bridges by now?” said Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, who led the push against the idea. “He's either been putting people's safety at risk for a while, or it's political.”
Schoch said the administration warned lawmakers this would happen without scheduled repairs.
“It has nothing to do with politics,” Schoch said. “It has nothing to do with crying wolf.”
Among 46 bridges in Allegheny County on the list are the Elizabeth Bridge on Route 51 and a bridge on Ohio River Boulevard that crosses Spruce Run Creek. The limit on the Liberty Bridge — a crucial crossing in and out of Downtown — will drop to 30 tons; the Elizabeth Bridge, 32 tons.
Six Beaver County bridges are listed, the largest of which is the Koppel Bridge.
Among 20 bridges in Westmoreland County is one spanning the Youghiogheny River on Route 136 and one on Route 259 over Freeman Run.
In Butler County, a bridge along Route 3010 over Glade Run is one of 18 listed.
PennDOT will start posting the limits on Aug. 29. The agency began notifying school-bus operators, emergency-service providers and other officials on Thursday.
“It's a huge problem,” said Westmoreland County Commissioner Charles Anderson. “I don't want to get into the politics of it, but there's no question we need to have the infrastructure secured — for the safety of the public and for commerce.”
Most cars won't be affected by the restrictions, but business owners who move heavy items are thinking of alternative plans.
“It's already difficult getting around town,” said Domenic Laudato, president of Pittsburgh Asphalt Co. in Baldwin Borough. His trucks' loads can exceed 35 tons.
“(The Elizabeth Bridge) is going to be the hardest one. That's going to be difficult getting around — the Liberty Bridge as well. Time is money.”