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Pa. Announces New Weight Restrictions on 1,000 Bridges

Budgetary issues, and not safety, prompted the move.

Mon September 09, 2013 - Northeast Edition

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) Pennsylvania officials on Aug. 22 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 Aug. 22 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 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."

Lists and maps of the affected bridges are posted on the PennDOT Web site — — and can be accessed by clicking on “Bridge Information."

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