Load limit boosted on Yale bridge

Jan. 14, 2014Houston Chronicle

Now that rehabilitation work has been completed on the Yale Street Bridge, the Texas Department of Transportation has placed a higher load limit on the structure, TxDOT spokesman Danny Perez said.

It is unlikely the load limit will be lifted entirely until TxDOT rebuilds the bridge over White Oak Bayou in late 2016.

The rehab work to the bridge, completed in the summer, involved installation of external carbon-strip reinforcement along the beams to increase the bridge’s load-bearing weight.

“Things are moving forward as they’re supposed to,” District C City Councilwoman Ellen Cohen said.

The revised load limit for the bridge is 10,000 pounds per vehicle. The maximum load for the bridge had been 3,000 pounds per axle since September 2012.

Before 2012, the load limit was 40,000 pounds for a single-axle truck and 21,000 pounds for tandem axles.

TxDOT has completed signage with the new requirements, which will be posted early this year by the city, Perez said.

Load limits were enacted after a TxDOT safety inspection showed parts of the bridge had weakened.

Drivers of vehicles that exceed the weight limit have been encouraged to use the Heights Boulevard Bridge, one block to the east, as an alternative. Drivers can find front- and rear-axle weights on their vehicle’s driver’s-side door sticker.

The Houston Police Department‘s truck enforcement unit has been monitoring Yale Street Bridge’s traffic since the load limits were established.

From January 2012 through November 2013, HPD officers stopped 1,130 vehicles suspected of exceeding the bridge’s weight limits, HPD spokesman John Cannon said.

The drivers of those stopped vehicles received a total of 1,413 citations, Cannon said, explaining that some drivers received citations for other violations as well.

“The enforcement efforts have continued since that time,” Cannon said.

The Yale Street Bridge replacement project is on a TxDOT prioritized list for state funding.

Design work is under way in house, Perez said.

TxDOT is tentatively scheduled to request bids for project construction in fall 2016, with work beginning several months later.

Perez said he did not have details on the project’s cost.

Once it gets under way, the reconstruction should take about a year, Perez said.

“Everything is pending environmental clearance,” he said, adding that TxDOT has not reached a concrete cost estimate for the bridge reconstruction.

This project’s announcement in 2012 followed strong community pressure to reconstruct the deteriorating bridge, which was constructed in 1931.

“There was a big push to get that bridge rebuilt,” said Bill Pellerin, chairman of the Houston Heights Association‘sLand Use Committee.

Though the new bridge is needed, Pellerin said, he expects the construction process to come with pain.

Yale Street already gets much traffic from cars exiting and entering Interstate 10, he said.

“Now they’re building high-density housing in the area, including two buildings on Yale Street for a total of 800 units,” Pellerin said, referring to Trammell Crow apartment complex projects slated for Yale at the Seventh Street and Sixth Street intersections.

“It’s going to be somewhat of a mess when Yale Street Bridge isn’t there,” Pellerin said.

“People can go over the bayou on Studemont or Heights Boulevard, but that’s backed up already.”

Heights-area resident Eileen Reed is among those who spoke in favor of the bridge’s replacement.

She has been following the project’s progress closely.

“We all remain very concerned about the safety of the bridge, and we’re looking forward to its reconstruction,” said Reed, former director of Responsible Urban Development for Houston.