PennDOT lowers weight limits on 1,000 bridges

Editor’s note: There are seven bridges in Warren County receiving new weight restrictions, according to PennDOT, two state-owned bridges and five locally-owned bridges.

The state bridges are the Hatch Run Bridge on Conewango Avenue and the Little Brokenstraw bridge on Route 957. The locally owned (township) bridges are:

Two on Egypt Hollow Road, one over Ackley Run and one over Widdelfield Run;

River Road over Morse Run;

Miles Run Road over Miles Run;

Jinks Road over Whitney Run.

HARRISBURG, (AP)- Pennsylvania officials on Thursday announced new weight restrictions on about 1,000 state and local bridges to enhance public safety and extend the life of the spans, citing uncertainty over transportation funding proposals that remain bottlenecked in the Legislature.

The decision by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will affect 530 state-owned bridges and about 470 locally owned bridges that are classified as structurally deficient.

“We’re trying to extend the life of these bridges. … They are not unsafe,” Secretary Barry J. Schoch said at a news conference in the warehouse-sized PennDOT sign shop on the outskirts of Harrisburg, where workers were removing stencils from freshly painted road signs.

Pennsylvania has nearly 4,500 structurally deficient bridges, more than any other state, out of a total of 25,000 state-owned bridges. It also has 6,000 locally owned bridges.

About half of the 1,000 bridges subject to new restrictions already are posted with weight restrictions and half are not, officials said.

The reduced weight limits are generally expected to be between 10 and 20 percent of the bridges’ current capacity, although some could face larger reductions because the amount of traffic they carry and other factors, officials said.

For an unposted bridge, which can handle a 40-ton tractor-trailer, a 10 percent reduction would translate into a weight limit of 36 tons.

School-bus operators, emergency services providers and other local officials were being notified Thursday about rerouting that the bridge limits may require.

PennDOT’s announcement came less than two months after bills to increase taxes and fees to finance improvements to highway, bridge and mass transit infrastructure stalled in the Legislature.

Both major proposals rely heavily on increasing the state oil company franchise tax by phasing out a cap on the amount of the wholesale price that is subject to the tax. A plan backed by Gov. Tom Corbett would raise $1.8 billion by 2018, while a plan approved by the state Senate would generate $2.5 billion.

The weight limits will begin to be posted next week, a process that will take four to five months, and remain in place for some time even if lawmakers approve new funding in the fall session that starts in late September, Schoch said.

An infusion of new money “will make sure this problem doesn’t get worse,” he said. “But we’re not going to stop this. This is a new policy that’s reflective … of the needs of the system, something we simply need to do.