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Local News

November 10, 2010

PennDOT unveils plans to replace iron bridge

Modern concrete structure updates ‘substandard’ one

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Township will soon lose a landmark.

The familiar “Iron Bridge,” carrying Route 19 over Neshannock Creek, will be torn down and replaced in the next few years.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation gave a presentation Wednesday evening to explain to the public its plans to replace the township’s iconic bridge.

PennDOT is currently in the early stages of developing design plans for the replacement project, which were displayed for residents and business owners. Replacement is necessary, as the bridge has been deemed substandard by PennDOT as a result of a number of collisions and repairs over the years.

Construction is currently planned to begin in spring 2012 and be completed by that winter.

The iron bridge was built in 1928 and was very similar to other truss bridges built in the area at that time.

Based on a state-wide study of bridges, however, it is not considered eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic places.

To be eligible for such a listing, the bridge would have to possess: Technological or historical significance, such as being the only bridge in the state designed by a specific party; historic properties; or the integrity of the original structure.

The bridge has been improved several times. It was re-decked in the 1980’s; retro-fitted around 2000 to add components to the wings on the outside edges; and repaired after a tractor trailer collision damaged the trusses on the inside of the bridge.

A representative from Wilbur Smith Associates presented the preliminary plans for the bridge. PennDOT often hires outside consulting firms to help with the overload of repair work that sometimes arises in the state, it was noted. Wilbur Smith Associates is a full-service transportation and infrastructure consulting firm providing services from conception to construction to clients around the world. Completely employee owned, the firm is headquartered in Columbia, S.C.

“The main purpose for today’s meeting is to ... get your feedback. It’s a part of the design process and we want to hear from you,” said Brian Yedinak, design engineer.

The width of the existing roadway is 23 feet. To increase the safety of the structure, it will be widened to 32 feet, Yedinak said.

PennDOT believes the wider road will extend the view for vehicles pulling on to Route 19 from Creek and Smith roads.

The conceptual work area will be about 1,500 feet long, to compensate for the required raising of the bridge. Because it is currently a low structure, the bridge will be raised approximately 2 or 3 feet. Creek and Smith roads will correspondingly be raised to meet the height.

A proposed detour of 16 miles is planned, utilizing interstates 79 and 80 to Route 208. PennDOT is required to use state roads for the detour.

“You’re going to impact everyone from Harlansburg to Mercer, Volant--everything--if you close that bridge. The economic problems around here are going to be serious. There’s going to be job loss. That needs to be thought about and not just casually,” said John McKinley of the Iron Bridge Inn restaurant.

Because of such an extensive detour, everyone in attendance agreed that a temporary bridge would be the best option for the local economy as opposed to a complete closure.

Costs for the total project are estimated at $3 million, which will be funded 80 percent via federal gasoline taxes, and 20 percent via state gas tax regulations. The state gas taxes are highway dedicated funding.

A temporary bridge will cost about $400,000 more. It could also mean an additional construction period to install the temporary structure before construction begins.

“We’ve talked about the possibility of doing that (a temporary bridge) and the challenges you have here is that it would have to be really long, about 150 feet. It’s tough to do that. And the bottom line, in my mind, is that we’re stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars. We have to find the right balance between what’s fiscally responsible and what fits into the fabric of the community best,” Yedinak said.

Some community members present at the meeting expressed their thoughts about the project.

“They just change what they want to do what you got to do, which I understand. We need a new bridge maybe, but you still just keep taking property off of the owners and we pay the tax on it,” said resident Merle Black, talking about property easements.

The anticipated right-of- way does not require the purchase of any surrounding properties, Yedinak added, though PennDOT does have temporary easements for the construction period. There are no permanent takeovers, but there will be slope changes on the surrounding properties due to the easements at the end of the process, he noted.

Black is also concerned that the projected easements will leave water laying on his property during heavy rain periods.

Buck Rendos and Tami Natskakula--representing Rendos Beer Distributing--and seasonal operator Gary Reiber gave their comments, as well.

Other residents mentioned concerns for the operation of school buses during the road closure.

An interest in the traffic patterns was also voiced. In the past, accidents on Interstate 79 have resulted in traffic backing up in residential areas along Route 19. Emergency response time is also a matter of interest for Springfield responders when they are forced to use the 16-mile detour.

Proposed alternatives for the complete closure and detour came from recent bridge replacement projects of the Volant bridge, located at the entrance to the Shops at Volant, and in New Wilmington on Route 158.

The new bridge will be a modern concrete structure, and final design plans will be presented in winter 2011.

PennDOT will then hire subcontractors--perhaps some local--to complete the construction.

Yedinak noted that little to no environmental impact is expected as a result of the project. It is believed that the trout fishing in the area will slow due to construction, however.

PennDOT will host a “Plan B” meeting sometime this spring after it has had the opportunity to address the public’s concerns and find a middle ground for their expectations and those of the residents and business owners of Springfield Township.

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