An historic bridge straddling Greene and Washington counties that was under consideration to be restored is now closed after an oversized vehicle severely damaged its deck while crossing it Thursday morning.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation implemented an emergency closure of the single-lane steel truss bridge along Day Road near Majorsville, W.Va., after a witness reported seeing a fully loaded tri-axle truck cross the span over Wheeling Creek about 9 a.m.
The driver of the truck made it across safely and did not stop. PennDOT is now asking state police to investigate and find the trucker.
The bridge, which has a 3-ton weight limit, was inspected Thursday and workers found the steel girder supports beneath the wooden deck had buckled, making it unstable. The wooden planks on one side were bowed up and down in a wave-like pattern.
Scott Finch, PennDOT’s acting manager for Greene County, said specialized bridge engineers were expected to inspect the bridge later Thursday to determine if it could be repaired and how long it must be closed. He added that the wooden deck was just replaced last year.
The damage comes nearly two years after PennDOT held a public hearing in October 2015 asking area residents whether it should rehabilitate the aging span or build a new bridge to accommodate larger truck traffic coming from nearby natural gas production plants. The bridge was built in the early 1900s and its weight limit forces heavier trucks to use other routes to reach the plants in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Richhill Township Supervisor Thomas Chess said at the time he thought a more robust bridge should be built because of the industry sprouting in that area. He reiterated that opinion Thursday afternoon upon hearing of the closure.
“As much industry and as much that is going in down there, having an underweight bridge … of that caliber just doesn’t work,” Chess said. “There isn’t a lot of access to the area from the Greene County side. That bridge has been underweight and something like this was bound to happen. I’m surprised it’s been this long.”
He said the bridge’s weight limit had been a hindrance for quite a while, but the historical aspect of the bridge made the decision more difficult.
“I don’t know what PennDOT is thinking of at this point,” he said. “If it’s destroyed, they might have to replace.”
PennDOT spokeswoman Valerie Petersen said the rehab project was still in the planning stages because of the bridge’s “historical value,” but Thursday’s incident could put that in peril. The department has been working in coordination with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to make the final decision.
“The decision would not be solely ours alone,” Petersen said. “We would have to work with the historical society. It’s in a position where it needs to be determined if we can rehab to fulfill the needs for the community, or should be replaced.”
She said the trucker had ample opportunities to avoid the bridge with weight limit signs posted miles ahead, giving commercial vehicle driver the opportunity to find an alternate route. Even school buses are not permitted to cross the span.
“That person could have had the ability to turn around,” Petersen said.
Thursday’s situation brought back memories of the Pollocks Mill Bridge near Mather that was heavily damaged Sept. 28, 2014, when an overweight water tanker illegally crossed and crashed through the wooden boards. The cost to repair that county-owned bridge was about $375,000, although a portion of that cost was paid through a settlement agreement from the hauling company to Greene County. The bridge was closed for 16 months while repairs were made.