Department of Transportation Secretary Barry J. Schoch Thursday authorized his department to add or increase weight restrictions to about 1,000 structurally deficient bridges statewide to ensure bridge safety and preserve our aging bridge system.
PennDOT must take this step because of legislative inaction this past June on transportation funding, leaving the department's future resources in question.
Reducing the weight traveling on these bridges will slow down their deterioration and preserve safety while funding for their repairs remains uncertain.
"For months I've been explaining to Pennsylvanians and to lawmakers that there are very real consequences to not enacting a transportation funding plan," Schoch said. "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."
As PennDOT has regulatory oversight over all bridges in the state, Schoch's authorization applies weight restrictions to 530 state-owned and about 470 locally owned bridges. In an effort to maintain safety for all motorists, a change in PennDOT's weight-restriction criteria must be implemented for all bridges, regardless of owner. Pennsylvania currently has 567 state bridges and 1,685 local bridges posted with weight restrictions.
To this point, the department has waited longer to place weight restrictions on bridges because of anticipated funding that allowed bridge repairs to be scheduled. With declining revenues and a well-documented funding need, the department is changing how it applies the national standard to weight restrict bridges earlier in their deterioration stages.
National bridge weight-limit posting criteria allow restrictions to be applied anywhere from when a bridge's ability to handle more than 80,000 pounds begins to decline, down to when a bridge has lost half of this ability.
Pennsylvania currently leads the nation in the number of SD bridges with 4,479. Pennsylvania ranks 35th in the nation with the percent of SD bridges that are posted or closed – after these new restrictions are put in place, Pennsylvania will rank 27th in the nation.
"In the past we've been able to hold off on restricting bridges, but now we have to be more conservative," Schoch said. "We have some of the oldest bridges in the nation and many of them need major repairs.''
"We have a serious funding need and the legislature still has not acted to pass a comprehensive transportation plan. 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."
Even if the legislature passes a transportation funding plan in the fall, the earliest the weight restrictions could be removed would be when their repairs can be programmed for funding within two years. If conditions warrant, the restrictions could remain in place until repairs are made.
PennDOT will begin posting bridges with weight limits as soon as Aug. 29. Notifications to school-bus operators, emergency-service providers and other local officials will begin today. Posting on local bridges will take place at a later date after PennDOT discusses these changes with local bridge owners.To view the bridges with new or lowered weight restrictions or to learn more about bridge weight restrictions and PennDOT's bridge-inspection program, visit the PennDOT website and click on "Bridge Information" on the right-hand side.