By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
SHARON, Pa. -- The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has imposed a five-ton weight limit on the State Street Bridge, banning truck traffic from using the structure.
State bridge inspectors discovered Wednesday some of the long beams that run the length of the bridge are severely rusted, some to the point of having large holes in them.
At least one was rusted from top to bottom.
"The issue is safety," Robert D. Zarecky, assistant Mercer County maintenance manager for PennDOT, said Thursday before allowing reporters to step into a boom bucket to be lowered beneath the bridge to see for themselves.
Assessing the damage: The beams are worst at the ends of the bridge, where east- and westbound traffic first reach the structure. Salt and other road debris falling through the open grating contributed to the extensive rusting, he said.
PennDOT rehabilitated the bridge, which spans the Shenango River, in 1980, putting in some new beams and painting it, Zarecky said.
The last inspection of the bridge was done in October 1998.
The bridge had no weight restriction until now, he said, noting PennDOT bridge engineers want a five-ton limit to be imposed immediately.
That means big trucks can't use it, he said, adding that he saw seven or eight tractor-trailers cross the bridge Wednesday during a period of a couple of hours.
New bridge coming: The bridge is scheduled to be replaced by the state in 2005, but Zarecky said PennDOT is making immediate repair of the structure a priority.
The work will involve repairing some beams by welding metal plates to them and adding new beams next to ones that are severely rusted, he said.
He had no time frame for the repairs.
Doug Leonberg, bridge technical supervisor for PennDOT, said repairs could get the weight restriction raised to 15 tons, about the weight of a school bus.
Mayor Robert T. Price said the city gets about 275 trucks a day in the downtown business district but only a few of them try to use the State Street Bridge. The five-ton limit shouldn't affect car traffic, he said.
However, he noted State Street will be a detour route for Shenango Valley Freeway traffic when the freeway is closed for several days next month while the Oakland Avenue Viaduct span is removed.
Zarecky said truck traffic must be kept off the State Street Bridge. It will be detoured over South Water Avenue, Connelly Boulevard and Sharpsville Avenue, he said.