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PA Limits Weight on 1,000 Bridges

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

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Struggling to manage the third-largest number of structurally deficient bridges in the nation, Pennsylvania's Department of Transportation has announced plans to impose new "risk-based weight restrictions" on 1,000 bridges statewide.

PennDOT said the new limits were needed "to preserve bridge safety" on its "aging, heavily used system" of 25,000 state-owned and 6,000 locally owned bridges. Some of the weight limits are new; others are further reductions of existing limits.

Weight restrictions are already in effect for 567 state-owned and 1,600 locally owned bridges in Pennsylvania, and 242 bridges (42 state owned; 200 locally owned) have been closed, according to a PennDOT presentation on the problem.

Liberty Bridge
Wikimedia Commons / Scillystuff

The Liberty Bridge (second from foreground) in Pittsburgh is one of 1,000 bridges across Pennsylvania with new weight restrictions. The bridge is nearly 90 years old.

The average age of the state-owned bridges is 51 years, and the state has the eighth most heavily traveled interstates in the nation, PennDOT said.

Deficiency and Safety

PennDOT notes that a rating of structural deficiency "does not mean that a bridge is unsafe," but does reflect "deterioration to one or more of its major components."

Safety is our number-one priority and if a bridge is found to be unsafe, it's closed," the agency said in announcing the limits. "If a bridge can only carry certain loads, it's restricted."

The restrictions follow criteria established by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO). PennDot notes that "bridges are designed to carry loads above the weights of fully loaded tractor trailers (80,000) pounds."

AASHTO's criteria assigns weight limits ranging from where that so-called factor of safety begins to decline down to where the structure has lost about half of its factor of safety.

PennDOT Chart
PennDOT

If Pennsylvania followed more stringent load criteria used by other states, thousands more bridges would be restricted, PennDOT said.

If Pennsylvania followed more stringent criteria used by other states, including Delaware and Connecticut, the state would have restrictions on thousands more bridges, PennDOT said.

Funding Cited

PennDOT blamed lack of financial resources for the weight restrictions, although it also released figures showing that the percentage of structurally deficient state-owned bridges was at its lowest point in a decade.

In 2003, 22 percent of state-owned bridges were classified as structurally deficient; in 2008, nearly 24 percent. Currently, about 17.5 percent of Pennsylvania's bridges carry that label, but the figure is projected to climb.

Without additional funding for maintenance, PennDOT says, about 300 additional bridges each year will become structurally deficient.

PennDOT chart
PennDOT

PennDOT said the new and additional weight restrictions were required by cutbacks in funding.

Meanwhile, the agency says, about 24 percent of the state's highway miles are considered in poor condition—a figure expected to top 35 percent within 10 years.

Bridges Listed

The bridges affected by the new restrictions range from small creek crossings to large structures that span rivers. Most of the bridges on the list are less than 100 feet long.

Larger bridges include the Liberty Bridge, which crosses the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh; and a span that carries State Route 62 over the Allegheny River in Forest County.

The Liberty Bridge was completed in 1928. The National Bridge Inventory reports that the deck, superstructure and substructure of the SR 62 Bridge are all considered Poor (each rating a 4 on a scale of 1 to 9).

A full list of bridges affected by load restrictions is available here. Approximate vehicle weights are available here.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Construction; Government; Health and safety; Infrastructure; Maintenance programs

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