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Tight squeeze New bridge restrictions could weigh heavily on local economy
DONNA WALKER Record Express Correspondent
, Staff Writer
Business owners in America’s Coolest Small Town want Pennsylvania legislators to know the new weight restrictions on state bridges are not cool.
Led by Mark Sauder of Sauder’s Eggs, city and business leaders gathered on Lititz Square Sept. 27 to voice their objection to PennDOT’s recent move to reduce weight allowances on bridges.
Sauder also contacted Senator Mike Brubaker to attend Friday’s media event during which he brought two of his tractor-trailers to Lititz to show citizens how tight it can be when they arrive side by side on Main Street.
If your car happened to be parked on either side of where the trucks crossed paths, you might have broken a sweat. Such an occurrence is more likely because trucks are now rerouted through town.
The state legislature failed to fund transportation in budget sessions last summer, leaving it without money to repair bridges. As a result, the state department of transportation placed load limits on bridges to extend their longevity.
"We can’t afford to have a collapse to occur, so if we don’t have enough funding then the bridge has to be weight restricted," Brubaker said in an interview. "I’m for putting enough tax money into our transportation system so we don’t have to weight restrict bridges."
North of Lititz, the weight allowance for the bridge on Route 501 over Hammer Creek dropped from 40 tons to 19 tons with an additional five tons allowed for a tractor-trailer load.
"That’s basically an empty truck," Sauder said of the 24-ton combined load allowance. "Our elected officials in Harrisburg need to work together to fund infrastructure at a sustainable level," Sauder said. "That’s what today is about."
Now that the Route 501 bridge can no longer carry heavy trucks hauling products north, they have to go around it. Their detour begins with travel south on Route 501, to Main Street in Lititz heading west. They proceed to Route 272 north, then U.S. 322 west.
What was once a 3-mile trip has become 18 miles.
"Time is money," said Guy Martin, a producer representative with Sauder’s Eggs. "Somebody has got to pick up the extra costs."
Lititz Borough Council President Karen Weibel said the weight and size of the trucks will push macadam that will increase street maintenance, cause traffic signal problems, possible water and sewer main breaks and compromise the integrity of 18th century buildings.
"Twenty-first century trucks on roads laid out in the 1700s are not a good fit," Weibel said. "When there are traffic problems or accidents, there is a greater need for police and emergency services resources, and that will drive up costs to taxpayers."
Police Chief William Seace expects mishaps to increase.
"We’ll have hit and run accidents, trucks getting too close to other vehicles, clipping doors or rear view mirrors," Seace said. "Along with that it’s just going to be a whole heck of lot of traffic downtown in an already very congested area."
Brubaker said the average age of a bridge in Pennsylvania is 51 years but the average lifespan of a bridge is 50 years.
"In Pennsylvania, we have over 9,000 bridges that are over 70 years old. Those 9,000 bridges clearly have to be either structurally improved and supported or totally torn down and rebuilt new," Brubaker said.
Brubaker added that the senate passed "a very strong" transportation plan by a 45-to-5 vote that called for $2.5 billion in improvements and upgrades.
"The Senate did its job. I’m encouraging the House to pass a strong transportation bill too, and if it doesn’t look like ours we can work it out in conference committee and get something to the governor’s desk," he said. "It’s absolutely imperative that the state pass a transportation plan," Brubaker said. Without it, he said, we’ll see continued reduction in weight limits on bridges or we’ll see bridges close."
Brubaker also wants to see exemptions for fire trucks, which can weigh from 19 to 35 tons depending on what they carry.
"We have to allow the fire trucks to go across bridges," he said. "Even a two minute detour would be unacceptable."
Some business owner like Tiger’s Eye proprietor Gaylord Poling wonder about tourism. Poling believes the town could lose business from the Lancaster and regional areas.
"We depend on the quaintness and safety of our downtown," Poling said. "If we reroute traffic we’ll have a real issue. It’s already congested coming up 501. If we add one more wrinkle, we won’t get people to come to town."
More TRUCK TRAFFIC, page A14