Bridge weight restrictions lead to delayed response times

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - It's taking longer for Chesterfield fire crews to get to some emergencies. Nearly a dozen bridges are off limits to fire trucks and ambulances. One crossing, that's a big concern, is on the verge of being replaced.

The Swift Creek reservoir bridge on Genito Road is one of nine in the county fire crews can't use. Their trucks are just too heavy for the weight limit. There it's 3 tons. That's because it needs to be replaced. Construction starts Monday, which will alleviate the problem, at least in that case.

In an emergency, seconds count.

"Our concern is to get there as quickly as we can," said Chesterfield Fire Chief Edward Senter, Jr.

But weight restrictions have lengthened response times.

On average about 2 and half minutes when avoiding the Genito bridge over the Swift Creek reservoir.

"Certainly the Genito Road bridge is a concern that effects the most people of the crossings involved," said Chief Senter.

Chesterfield fire started clocking how long some fire calls took two years ago when VDOT lowered the weight limit on that bridge from 12 to 3 tons. Inspectors found advanced deterioration in the beams on the nearly 75-year-old span.

"This particular fire engine weighs about 22 tons," said Chief Senter.

Other larger ladder trucks can weigh up to 40 tons. Ambulances average eight to ten.

Chief Senter said there hasn't been a case where fire crews couldn't get to an emergency within enough time.

"We don't feel there's any increased risk for fire or any other types of emergencies but just understand it will take us a little bit longer if you live close to one of those crossings," said Chief Senter.

The list of nine bridges off limits to heavy trucks includes the Nash Road bridge over Rita Branch. It's second to Genito in the department's concerns. VDOT said it's functionally obsolete, which means it doesn't meet today's standards.

Chesterfield fire says the other bridges they can't use because of weight restrictions are on Bundle Road over Second Branch, Genito Road over Tomahawk Creek, Mount Hermon Road over Swift Creek, River Road over Winterpock Creek, Ruffin Mill Road over Ashton Creek, Spring Run Road over Third Branch and Winterpock Road over Winterpock Creek.

But all Chesterfield fire trucks and ambulances have GPS mapping systems that automatically reroute crews around restricted bridges.

"The firefighters know right away where that location is and take into consideration different response routes," said Chief Senter.

Fire stations have also been reassigned to make sure affected neighborhoods are covered. The bridge replacement work on Genito Road should be complete by December.

Construction starts Monday. If you use the bridge between Woolridge and Otterdale Roads, watch for flaggers and flashing yellow lights Monday and Tuesday. After that, traffic will alternate using one lane over the bridge. To avoid delays, use Otterdale to Old Hundred Road to Watermill Parkway.

VDOT says there are no other major bridge projects planned at this time.

Copyright 2012 WWBT NBC12.  All rights reserved.