Heavily laden dump trucks continue to rumble over the 90-year-old Andrewsville bridge, at the eastern end of Lansford, even though the state Department of Transportation in October reduced the weight limit for vehicles crossing the bridge to 30 tons and plans to detour trucks to keep them off the span.
The continuing truck traffic has some people puzzled, but PennDOT spokesman Ron Young explained that his agency has issued special permits that allow some heavy trucks to use the bridge.
"There are two hauling companies that submitted applications and have been approved to exceed the posted weight limit due to their individual vehicle configuration," he said. "Savage Hauling and K.A. Ash, Ltd. have permits to exceed the posted bridge limit."
Young said the permits "need to be carried in the truck, so if they are stopped by police they are required to show this permit to the police. These permits do have vehicle identification numbers and license plate numbers on them, so they are for each individual vehicle."
The permits limit the trucks' speed to a maximum of 20 mph while crossing the bridge; the permitted trucks may only cross the bridge when no other vehicles are on it, and the permittee is liable for any damage to the bridge, as well as any injury to persons or property that result from the permitted use. The permits would be null and void upon any change in posting of the bridge.
The concrete T-beam bridge, built in 1921, is 31 feet long and carries an average of 5,587 vehicles each day, according to PennDOT.
After a routine inspection revealed deterioration of the main concrete box beams, the agency in October restricted vehicles' weight to 30 tons, with a 40-ton restriction for combination trucks.
In May, PennDOT notified lansford and Summit Hill that it plans to re-route truck traffic through the towns in order to keep it off the bridge.
Young has said two PennDOT engineers met on May 12 with Lansford officials to talk about the plan.
Traffic signaling lines and crosswalks at the intersection of Route 209 (E. Patterson Street) and Route 902 (Springgarden Street) will need to be painted to allow more room to trucks to turn, he said.
The rerouting will take at least a couple of months to put in place.
Meanwhile, some Lansford council members said they are concerned that routing trucks up Springgarden Street to Summit Hill may endanger children walking to or waiting at a school bus stop on Springgarden Street.
State Rep. Doyle Heffley recently visited the bridge with some Lansford council members.
Heffley, a freshman legislator on the House Transportation Committee, has made the state's infrastructure a high priority.
He said he's looking forward to learning more about the committee's ideas for "different scenarios for transportation funding. We have over 6,000 structurally deficient bridges in the Commonwealth."
He said he would discuss adding the Andrewsville bridge to that list.
"It's an obsolete bridge in design," he said. One option to make the bridge safer would be to fill in the old railroad crossing the bridge spans, he said.
"This was something borough leaders thought might work," Heffley said.
Efforts to reach council president Adam Webber were unsuccessful.
Heffley supports House Bill 546, or the Rebuild Pennsylvania Infrastructure Assistance Act. Under the proposed legislation, the state would borrow, with voter approval, $400,000,000 for the "acquisition, repair, construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, extension, expansion and improvement of Pennsylvania infrastructure, including roads, bridges, railroads, dams, water supply and sewage treatment systems, energy, communications, flood control measures and any other such infrastructure the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority deems relevant; and providing for the powers and duties of the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority."
However, he said he's "skeptical when there is talk about borrowing. We need to look at options in paying for things.
The possible sale of state stores could help offset costs of bridge and road construction," he said.
Heffley said $70 million has been set aside for bridge improvements in our area, including the Thomas J. McCall Bridge on Route 209 in Lehighton and Jim Thorpe bridge.