Residents express concern over Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge weight limit impact on emergency response

Approximately 20 residents of Plymouth Township’s West Nanticoke section attended a Thursday night meeting to learn how emergency response will be impacted by a recent weight limit reduction on the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge.

Several voiced strong worries about longer wait times.

The weight limit of the Luzerne County-owned bridge over the Susquehanna River has been reduced to 5 tons based on a new inspection report, discussions with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and “in consideration of public safety,” county Manager Romilda Crocamo has said.

Passenger vehicles are permitted under this weight limit but not fire trucks and emergency rescue vehicles, officials said.

Nanticoke Fire Chief Mark Boncal said his city fire department relied on the bridge to provide primary fire/rescue coverage to the township’s West Nanticoke area on the other side of the river. Depending on location, other township sections are covered by fire departments in Larksville, Plymouth and Lake Silkworth.

These fire coverage changes stemmed from the 2019 disbanding of the Tilbury Fire and Rescue Station primarily due to financial issues.

Boncal said he and the township sent a letter Thursday to Crocamo seeking an exemption to allow one fire truck —a smaller engine pumper — to use the bridge to reach West Nanticoke if there is a residential or commercial structure fire threatening life safety.

Crocamo received the request Thursday afternoon and promptly replied to Boncal that she also appreciates his concern for public safety and the importance of considering all factors when it comes to the use of the bridge.

“The request for an exception to the 5-ton weight limit will be carefully reviewed by the office of law. The decision will prioritize public safety above all else,” Crocamo said, suggesting a meeting to further discuss the matter.

If the exemption is approved, the fire truck would return to Nanticoke by crossing the river over the alternate route now in effect — the John S. Fine Bridge, which is the official name of the Route 29/South Cross Valley Expressway span.

Based on prior experience, Boncal estimated about a dozen fire truck crossings would be necessary on the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge if the exemption is granted.

He said an exemption would require approval from the county and its engineer and the state transportation department.

Before the latest weight limit, the average response time was 3 minutes and 30 seconds, Boncal said. After the reduction, the response time rose to 6 minutes and 42 seconds, sometimes higher, he said. One recent call for an accident took 7 minutes, he said.

The weight limit also impacts ambulance service because the city is first responder. An ambulance is 480 pounds over the weight limit, a representative said.

The 2,072-foot bridge is a combination concrete and steel crossing. County officials have been exploring options to largely replace the existing span or construct a new one.

Plymouth Township Supervisor Gale Conrad coordinated Thursday’s meeting.

“Everybody’s doing everything we can,” Conrad told the group.

County Councilman Jimmy Sabatino attended to hear the public input so he can share it with his council colleagues.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.


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