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New bridge safety standards forcing emergency responders to seek alternate routes

ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WPTA21) – What if firefighters had to change their routes to your home or business, potentially increasing the amount of time it takes for them to help you?

New federal standards mean that could happen.

A small bridge over Willow Creek in Huntertown is perfectly fine for passenger cars and trucks to cross.

But under new federal bridge safety guidelines– lowering the load or weight limit classifications on the structures– the Huntertown Fire Department can no longer take its heaviest tanker trucks over the creek.

The agency has worked out alternate routes around the bridge in the event of a fire or other crisis.

“This is something that we didn’t know was coming,” said Huntertown Fire Department Operations Chief Robert Boren.

He says 5 or 6 bridges in the department’s coverage territory are now deemed unfit to handle the weight of at least some of their fire trucks.

“We’ve got areas in our response area that we’ll have to go several miles out of the way just to go around said bridge to make an emergency scene if needed,” Boren said.

“It may change some of the traffic patterns for some of the trucks around,” said Allen County Highway Department Director Bill Hartman.

The vast majority of people behind the wheel of a vehicle won’t have to worry about the changes, Hartman said.

But he admits fire trucks, certain school buses, dump trucks and concrete trucks could be scrambling for new ways to detour around about 60 additional bridges scattered from one end of the county to the other.

Signs are coming, to warn heavy truck operators approaching structures that warrant a notice.

“We’ve never had any real overloading collapse, but we would like everybody to respect the…you know, knowing what they’re hauling, please respect the signs,” Hartman said.

These changes are impacting locations all over our viewing area, all over the country.

They figure to prompt government agencies to spend cash to take corrective action, but there’s only so much corrective action they can afford.

Allen County government has set aside $57-million for bridge repairs and upgrades over the next seven years, and welcomes input from heavy truck users on where those dollars could best be spent to possibly take some bridges off the load limit list.

“We don’t have a bottomless, endless supply of money and consequently, it is what you see,” said Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters.

The new signage could be posted on the approach to affected bridges over the next 30 to 45 days.


Jeff Neumeyer

Jeff Neumeyer is a reporter for WPTA.

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