New SCDOT bridge weight restrictions create concerns for Pickens County residents and emergency vehicles

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PICKENS COUNTY, SC (WSPA)–Everything from garbage trucks to emergency vehicles that pass by homes in Pickens County may have to be rerouted due to new weight limit restriction on some state bridges.

Pickens County officials said about 70 signs have been put up near bridges by the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT), and more could be coming.

“It angers me because they pop up the signs all of a sudden with no warning and we don’t have an alternative route,” Vice-President of Upstate Sand & Gravel Lee Cason said.

The restrictions follow a mandate by the Federal Highway Administration, so the bridges can be surveyed and determine load capacity.

“Well, it’s happening for one simple reason, the Federal Highway Administration is requiring it. Every so often a survey of bridges is conducted or required by the Federal Highway Administration to determine the load capacity, which means simply, how heavily a truck can travel over this bridge and still be safe and not damage the bridge,” said Pete Poore, Director of Communications at SCDOT.

“So we’re going through that survey if you will, state-wide to examine all the bridges and to determine what the load rating is, again how much weight can that bridge stand. So, that’s why you’re seeing signs like that not only in Pickens County, but all across the state,” Poore said.

“The Federal Highway Administration requires periodic load ratings, which identify the loading capacity for each bridge. It is a new federal requirement within the last 18 months that emergency vehicles are rated for bridges in which they are legally allowed to cross. If a bridge is determined to be unable to withstand maximum legal loading for many cycles, the bridge must be load restricted,” SCDOT representatives said.

For truck drivers, like Cason, the new signs and restrictions are costing them time and money.

“The biggest concern is the time that it takes for me to get a load delivered to a customer. Now, with having to make a 10 to 15 mile detour, because of a low weight limit bridge, it cost us more money now, and with fuel prices going up to have to go out of our way,” Cason said. “It’s not just your dump trucks that have to deal with it, you have your trucks hauling goods for grocery stores, they can’t get to the stores without having to make a detour around,” he said.

It’s also causing a headache for Pickens County, including emergency responders.

“The fact that DOT in Columbia are making these decisions without really talking to us, the other concern is, what about our fire trucks. What about our sand and roads and bridge vehicles when you have an ice event? We’re having to go back and look and try to gather this data as quickly as we can with our mapping department, with our roads department, and our emergency departments, and figure out do we need to take new routes with fire engines. New routes with dump trucks, said Ken Roper, Administrator for Pickens County.

“Where is that alternate route going to be? It’s going to be on a county, neighborhood road, that’s not designed for that kind of traffic,” Roper said. “Well guess what? If it starts getting a bunch of diverted traffic from these bridges, you’re talking about our local roads being even more stressed, deteriorating even faster,” Roper said.

“It would be nice for them to give us a heads up when they’re going to do this, and give us a better alternate route, because putting a heavy vehicle on a side road, that’s not built for a heavy vehicle is eventually going to tear that side road up, and then they’re going to close that road on us, then where do we go?” Cason said.

“I mean it just makes me think, you know, if a house is on fire and they come up to a nine ton limit bridge, a loaded fire truck weighs more than nine tons, should they cross the bridge or do they have to take a 15 minute detour back around, and it could cost someone to lose their life,” Cason added.

While truckers and Pickens County crews said this could change their everyday business, they want answers and a solution fast.

“We don’t feel like the DOT down in Columbia has done a very good job of communicating on this, helping us plan for this. These are real issues that we’re going to have to deal with, and we need DOT to step up and help us,” Roper said.

Poore said notification letters went out on November 10, 2020.

“It bothers me that as a trucking company, we have to pay more in taxes to use these roads. We have a high road use fee, and we also have a heavy vehicle tax to be on these roads, and when we can’t use these roads. It makes you wonder where’s this money going to, and why it’s not being spent on these roads and bridges. Seems like to me, somebody needs to give us an answer to the problem,” Cason explained.

“Weight restrictions are determined on a case by case basis for each bridge. These are based on the results of the load rating process, which consider thing like what the bridge was designed to hold, age, condition, and other factors. The weight restrictions remain in place until there is a change to the structural capacity of the bridge. SCDOT is actively making repairs where appropriate. In some cases, a full bridge replacement will be needed to remove the restriction,” SC DOT representatives said in an email to 7-News.

The weight restrictions do not apply to most cars or pick up trucks, but if you drive a bigger truck, you may want to check your tonnage, not following the restrictions could result in a traffic violation.

Click here to see exact rules and regulations from SC DOT.

SC DOT officials said they will work with Pickens County to determine shorter detours to avoid any potential problems.

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