BRUSH VALLEY — Many motorists traveling Route 56 in Brush Valley Township probably never realize they’re even on a bridge as they cross Little Brush Creek near Hiner Road.
But the little 88-year-old bridge is significant now because it’s the first of 13 state-owned bridges in Indiana County to be posted with weight limits or more restrictive weight limits under the state’s risk-based bridge program announced in August.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has started posting hundreds of bridges around the state to keep heavier vehicles off them with the goal of keeping them in service longer, until more state and federal money, it’s hoped, is available to repair or replace them.
“We’re trying to extend the life of these bridges. ... They are not unsafe,” state transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said last month.
Before this week the Route 56 bridge had no weight restriction. But posted signs now warn that vehicles heavier than 29 tons — or truck-and-trailer combinations heavier than 40 tons — may not cross the span.
Jim Andrews, PennDOT District 10’s bridge engineer, said about 500 trucks travel that section of Route 56 each day. And the new bridge weight limitations will likely most affect tri-axle dump trucks. When fully loaded, they weigh about 36 tons.
“They will be one of the trucks restricted by this,” said Joe Dubovi, the District 10 district executive. Dubovi noted there are coal mines and a fly ash dump in the area and coal-fired electricity generating stations in both directions from the bridge, so tri-axle dump trucks are a significant part of the heavy truck traffic on Route 56.
The restrictions will impact other heavy trucks on the highway as well. Loaded cement mixers can weigh 33 tons and tri-axle water trucks serving gas well drilling sites weigh about 37 tons when fully loaded, according to PennDOT.
The drivers of the heavy trucks will have two options when they need to travel on Route 56: Follow an alternative truck route of nearly 30 miles over Routes 119 and 22, or carry reduced loads so their rigs stay at or under the weight limits for the Route 56 bridge.
The Route 56 bridge was posted because inspections showed its deck and superstructure are “structurally deficient” and in poor condition, Dubovi said.
The most efficient way to get the bridge out of that structurally deficient status and remove the weight restrictions would be to replace the bridge with a new span, a process that will take more than two years and cost between $1 million and $1.5 million, Andrews said.
There is no projection of when that could happen, given the uncertainty over transportation funding proposals in the state Legislature.
“Right now we don’t have enough state funds to address all the problems we have,” Dubovi said.
In addition to posted signs warning drivers that the bridge now has a weight restriction, PennDOT has contacted area trucking companies and informed them of the change.
Dubovi said the state police were also informed of the new weight restrictions on the Route 56 bridge, and it will be up to the state police to enforce the weight limits.
The other 12 state-owned bridges in Indiana County that will get new or more restrictive weight limitations must be posted by the end of the year.
The original list of bridges to be posted included the northbound and southbound spans that carry Route 119 over East Pike Road in White Township. There was some concern that limiting weights on those bridges would send heavy trucks on a detour through Indiana Borough.
But Dubovi said Thursday that PennDOT districts were allowed to remove bridges from the posting list if the bridges were programmed for replacement within two years. Money has been moved around that will allow the Route 119 spans over East Pike Road to be replaced. Andrews said that project is expected to begin in the spring.
One lane of traffic in each direction will be maintained during the construction project, Andrews said.
In PennDOT District 10 (Armstrong, Butler, Clarion, Indiana and Jefferson counties) there are 40 state-owned bridges and 10 locally owned bridges that will be posted with new or more restrictive weight limits.
More details on District 10’s posted bridge information are available at http://www.dot.state.pa.us/penndot/Districts/District10.nsf/HomepageFrameset?OpenFrameset. Under “More Resources” click on “Posted Bridges” for maps and “Posted State Bridges” and “Posted Local Bridges” for spreadsheets.