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Weight limits put on southbound Sullivan Road Bridge

Sat., June 25, 2011

The city of Spokane Valley announced late Wednesday that weight restrictions were being put in place on the southbound lanes of the Sullivan Road bridge. The relative suddenness of the action has local businesses unsure how the limits will affect business.

Standard semitrailers are limited to 36 tons. The city has identified weight limits for 16 different types of trucks and the limits vary depending on the length of the truck and the number of axles. “It’s the shorter, heavier trucks that are being impacted the most,” said Spokane Valley senior engineer Steve Worley. “It’s not the heavier loads spread out over a long distance.”

“None of our tenants have complained yet,” said Rob Gragg, vice president of Crown West Realty, which owns the Spokane Valley Industrial Park on Sullivan north of the bridge.

There have always been traffic flow problems created by the traffic lights just south of the bridge, Gragg said. “I just don’t see this as a big issue,” he said. “There’s always been a problem going down Sullivan anyway. The lights are terrible.”

There is a Central Pre-Mix concrete plant and Inland Asphalt gravel pit on Sullivan just north of the bridge. Central-Pre Mix bought Inland Asphalt in 1981. Mark Murphy, vice president of the Central Pre-Mix Development Corporation, expressed a different view from Gragg’s in an emailed statement.

“Central Pre-Mix and Inland Asphalt anticipate significant negative operational and financial impacts from the recent weight restrictions imposed on the Sullivan Road Bridge, especially with several major construction projects currently underway,” he wrote. “Because the restrictions were put in place earlier this week, we are still in the process of determining how to best reduce costs that will occur as a result. We will more than likely detour the dump trucks to the Barker Bridge and will use additional trucks to accommodate hauling materials both day and night.”

There are actually two separate bridges carrying Sullivan traffic across the Spokane River. The bridge carrying southbound traffic is the oldest, having been built 60 years ago. City staff has known the bridge has been deteriorating for some time, Worley said.

There are cracks on the girders, and the deck of the bridge is also in poor shape, Worley said. The city came to realize that restricting the weight of large trucks was the only way to keep the bridge from deteriorating further while the city tries to come up with enough money to replace it.

“We’ve been studying this bridge, trying to figure out ways to deal with its deteriorating condition without putting weight restrictions,” he said. “It’s just getting older. In order for us to make sure the bridge does not deteriorate any faster we need to restrict the loads on the bridge.”

If restricting truck weights doesn’t work, the city may have to consider banning truck traffic on the bridge altogether, Worley said. “If the bridge continues to deteriorate, there’s a possibility,” he said.

Worley emphasized that the bridge is still safe for traffic to use. “It is not in danger of falling into the river,” he said. “There are enough redundancies in the design of the bridge that it’s not a catastrophic situation.”

Worley said the city worked with Central Pre-Mix and Inland Asphalt to get information on what kind of trucks they use and the city also took other steps to notify businesses of the problem. “Back in January we sent out a flier when we first became aware the bridge was having issues,” he said.

The city placed weight limit signs on Trent Avenue and Sullivan about a week ago. They were put up so far away so truckers would have plenty of time to turn around if their loads are too heavy. “We didn’t want some truck coming up on the bridge loaded too heavily,” he said.

The list of truck types and weight limits was also mailed to businesses in the area as well as to local trucking companies, trucking associations and the Washington State Patrol.

The city has received some grants and has about half of the estimated $20 million it would take to replace the bridge. It will likely be several years before the city has enough money to do the work, Worley said.

When that construction project begins will be the time to worry, Gragg said. “That’s going to be an absolute mess,” he said. “As a comparison, this is nothing.”

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