Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
Weight restrictions could be placed on more state-owned bridges if state lawmakers aren’t able to find a way to fund transportation infrastructure projects this year.
That warning came from PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch as he spoke to Senate Appropriations Committee members Wednesday. He said he may approve more weight restrictions on bridges if the latest push to increase transportation funding becomes a bridge to nowhere.
“We are the most liberal state in the country when it comes to posting bridges – liberal, meaning we wait until the latest possible moment,” said Schoch. “If we’re not going to see action – and if we don’t see action this time – I would say it’s pretty clear were not going to see action for at least two more years… I think on behalf of the public, I got to take a look at that and say, do we really want to be the most liberal state in the nation when it comes to an infrastructure that’s the age of ours?”
Schoch said if there’s no transportation funding package in 2013, he’ll have to scale back the state’s investment in transportation projects from a roughly $2 billion annual investment to about a $1.6 billion annual investment. Fewer structurally deficient bridges would be getting repairs in such a scenario, and Schoch said he’d consider restricting loads on them accordingly.
“If it’s aging, it’s weakening,” said Schoch of the state’s infrastructure, “and we should be more conservative. If we’re not going to invest, then we probably should be more conservative in the way we deal with weight-restricting bridges for public safety.”
Weight restrictions are currently posted for 567 bridges out of the state’s roughly 25,000 bridges, according to a PennDOT spokeswoman. Schoch said the number would jump by up to 5,000 bridges if he applied restrictions according to the recommendations of a national association of transportation experts.
Such a move could affect the trucking industry.
“If it’s merely a road that’s posted, there are provisions in place to make local deliveries,” said Dean Riland, assistant general manager at the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association. Trucks are permitted to make local deliveries in that case, he explained. “But if a bridge is posted, you still can’t cross it to make a local delivery… for obvious reasons,” he said.
“I think I understand where the secretary’s coming from, but it would certainly adversely affect commerce and the ability of truckers to make deliveries to communities,” said Riland, explaining that truckers may have to drive many miles to get around a bridge posting. “It may increase costs,” he said, “and that cost is ultimately going to come back to the consumer.”
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