Energy. Environment. Economy.

Worries In Western Pa. Over Bridge Weight Restrictions


Mary Wilson/ witf

The state legislature’s failure to pass a transportation funding package this summer has led PennDOT to impose weight restrictions on about 1,000 bridges across the state.

Now officials in western Pennsylvania are worried the infrastructure troubles send the wrong message to the state’s biggest economic development effort—a multi-billion dollar ethane cracker plant proposed by Shell.

The plant would break up oil and natural gas into smaller molecules to create ethylene, which is a compound used to manufacture plastics. Although the plans have yet to be finalized, the project has been hailed by Governor Corbett as a much-needed job creator which would draw on the state’s vast natural gas reserves.

However the bridge weight restrictions are already impacting a chemical company near the site of the proposed cracker plant in Beaver County.

Representatives from NOVA Chemicals recently met with PennDOT officials to discuss a weight-restricted bridge on Route 18 crossing Raccoon Creek, next to the Ohio River.

Jack Manning is with the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce. He doesn’t believe the transportation funding issue will be a deal-breaker for Shell, but he does feel lawmakers are sending the wrong signals for economic development efforts.

“For whatever reason, the House can’t get their act together and get this thing passed,” says Manning, “It has long-term ramifications on economic development in our area specifically and Pennsylvania as a whole.”

Shell did not respond to a request for comment, but PennDOT says NOVA Chemicals is considering paying for the repairs itself. The company makes plastics for packaging products.

“Basically we told them the bridge needs $25,000 to $50,000 in repairs,” says Dan Cessna, head of PennDOT’s District 11. ”We said we could fix it down the road, but we don’t know when.”

NOVA Chemicals spokesman Pace Markowitz says the company is hopeful to resolve the matter soon.

“[We have] raised our concerns to PennDOT and have been pleased with their response so far,” he wrote in an email.

Manning says much of the projected growth around the Shell cracker will be ancillary companies that will also rely on the Route 18 corridor.

“It’s just a reality that you’ve got to have bridges that are functional and not weight-restricted for that kind of construction and that kind of production to come out of that corridor,” he says.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents the state’s gas drilling industry also believes the bridge weight restrictions are adversely impacting their business.

“We are still analyzing the listings to determine the extent of just how consequential this announcement may be,” MSC spokesman Steve Forde said in a statement.

The Senate passed a $2.5 billion transportation package this summer, but the House did not put a plan to a vote.

House Republicans are currently discussing a much smaller $500 million plan.


  • Vera Scroggins

    Pa. is short on funds even after over 5 years of gas drilling; our bridges are old and in need of repairs; We have collapsing bridges and roads here in Susquehanna County and PennDot is short on funds from a state that is underfunding them; What jobs will we get from this Cracker Plant? how many? let them fix the roads and bridges they will use .

    • Madchen

      After five years of gas drilling (and profits for those companies), PA still has a collapsing infrastructure and no money to pay for it.

      Where are all of the jobs, tax revenue, ancillary jobs, and aid for local municipalities that were promised for the original deals and tax breaks? Where are the landowners getting rich from having sold their mineral rights (have you met any?)? Where is the huge influx of money for which PA was willing to sell its environment and its public safety?

      When we allow businesses to pay for only the public services they need right now to make a profit, we give up control over how our schools, highways, pensions, state police, and public health systems are funded.

      We swear we do not want the federal government telling us how to spend our money. Why are we okay with Shell Oil doing it?

  • imforit

    So what is being said is because no transportation bill was passed, one thousand bridges must suddenly have weight limits. Does this mean these bridges went bad just recently and if the bill had passed there wouldn’t be any weight limitations put on them? The bridges have been going bad for years and now because they want added fees via the transportation bill, the bridges are suddenly dangerous. How obvious can they be and how stupid do they think we residents are? Rob the WAM funds, stop the legislature’s yearly raises, have full time representation, adopt a right to work state, etc. Do I need to continue?

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