Weight limits hit major local roads

The state Department of Transportation announced new weight restrictions Thursday for roughly 1,000 bridges, including dozens in central Pennsylvania. Heavy-vehicle detours – including one around Route 22 in Blair County – could be established as soon as next week, officials said.

Lists released this week show planned restrictions for both state and municipal bridges. In a news release, PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch blamed the state Legislature’s failure to pass a transportation funding bill for the latest round of weight limits.

“We will begin across the state as soon as Aug. 29, posting these structures,” PennDOT District 9 Executive Tom Prestash said Thursday.

One of the most significant restrictions is set to affect Route 22, where a bridge over Canoe Creek in Frankstown Township is slated for a 28-ton limit, or 39 tons for combined vehicles. That limit could force some fully loaded tractor-trailers, concrete mixers and garbage trucks onto a detour that adds 10 miles to the trip each way, Prestash and District Bridge Engineer Ralph DeStefano said.

Overweight vehicles on the east-west road will soon have to join I-99 in Duncansville, exit at Tyrone and take the single-lane state Route 453 back to Route 22 in Huntingdon County, the officials said.

The 39-ton limit might not affect many local freight lines, but it could pose problems for national tractor-trailer operators that carry heavier loads along Route 22, said Tim Ward, vice president for quality at Ward Trucking.

Local roads with lower weight limits could affect regional companies like Ward, whose safety staff are evaluating the new restrictions, he said.

Dozens more local bridges are set for restrictions, including some on heavily traveled “two-digit” roads, like Route 56 in Bedford County and Route 26 in Huntingdon.

E. 10th Street in Tyrone will also face new limits where it crosses Bald Eagle Creek, DeStefano said.

Even small rural routes could lose traffic as milk trucks and farm supply vehicles are forced to circumvent freshly limited bridges, the officials said. Engineers are coordinating limits with local authorities for dozens of municipal- and county-owned bridges in Blair and surrounding counties, they said.

With no transportation funding bill completed and fall passage far from guaranteed, PennDOT must reduce damage as engineers prioritize repairs and stretch their available funds, Schoch said. Posting will begin on local bridges as soon as the necessary signs arrive, Prestash said.

Prestash stressed that the limited bridges aren’t inherently dangerous – the restrictions are preventive, meant to staunch wear and tear so more pressing repairs can be delayed.

“It’s like a paperclip. You keep bending it with frequency, it just breaks,” he said. “But if you slow down that frequency, it’s going to slow the deterioration.”

PennDOT representatives will contact emergency responders and school bus companies in the coming days, Prestash said, to inform them of possible detours. District 9 officials said none of the major local closures appear to affect school buses.

No local bridges are set to be closed entirely, they said.

This round of restrictions isn’t the last, however: Prestash said more bridges could be posted, and limits could be further reduced in the coming months and years as engineers conduct scheduled checks.

State House Transportation Committee Chairman Dick Hess, R-Bedford, has expressed confidence that a transportation bill can be passed this fall. But even if the state General Assembly passes a bill, it could be years before work is completed and posts are removed, Schoch said in a news release.

“We have a serious funding need, and the Legislature still has not acted to pass a comprehensive transportation plan,” he said. “I have to look ahead to the future and preserve these bridges because, without action, we will not have money to invest in them for a long time.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.