The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has applied weight restrictions on about 1,000 structurally deficient bridges throughout the state. It took this step after the state legislature failed to provide it funding for repairs.
With a total of 4,479 structurally deficient bridges, Pennsylvania has the highest number of such bridges in the country. On average, bridges in the state are over 50 years old. “Structurally deficient” doesn’t mean a bridge is necessarily unsafe, though – being classified this way can means that the bridge may be able to carry loads of a lesser weight.
Weight restrictions will increase costs
An average loaded tractor-trailer weighs 40 tons. With weight limits being reduced by 10-20%, tractor-trailers may have to make detours now, which will increase costs. “Our tractor-trailers such as milk trucks, food trucks, they typically get about six miles to the gallon,” says Jennifer Reed-Harry, assistant vice president , PennAg Industries Association. “So when you’re talking about a detour that may have to go an additional 30 miles out around the loop to get to a farm or to get to a food mill, it’s an additional cost to the end consumer, ultimately.”
Emergency services will be affected, too. An average fire truck weighs 19-30 tons. “If you happen to be waiting for a fire truck … and we post a bridge and you’re at the other side of that bridge, that’s going to be a longer response time,” says PennDOT Secretary Barry Scoch.
Weight restrictions a temporary solution
How long will this measure delay the inevitable? “Based on past experiences, [a weight restriction] will increase the lifespan of the bridge at least five to 10 years,” says PennDOT District 6 Executive Lester Toaso.
PennDOT has notified emergency service providers, school bus operators, and other local officials of the changes. Workers have begun posting signs on the new weight limits on bridges, a process that will continue over the next four to five months.
Even if the legislature makes funds available for bridges to be repaired from this year, it will be two years before the repairs can be completed on all the structurally deficient bridges and the weight limits removed.