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July 25, 2014
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Finally it’s making sense

Richard Plunz

Almost a decade has passed since PennDOT announced its intention to replace the historic Pond Eddy Bridge rather than to restore it—not that they ever said restoration was impossible. Rather, the argument was always that a “modern bridge,” even if it serves only 20-some properties, had to be to the highest possible standards. In this case, that means 40 or more tons rather than 18 tons, higher than the weight rating for almost every other bridge in Sullivan or Pike counties.

While no one involved with this issue denied that health and safety issues demanded that the bridge be restored, especially after 60 years of deferred maintenance, those who questioned the need for destruction could never quite figure out why PennDOT was so adamant. Those who raised questions were many, including the Preservation League of New York State, Preservation Pennsylvania, the National Historic Bridge Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Upper Delaware Preservation Coalition and the Friends of the Pond Eddy Bridge. No one could figure out why a new bridge could be so important, at a cost based on PennDOT’s varied estimates of between $9.5 and $16 million, when the option of reasonable restoration was so much more rational given both the economic and historic resources of the area. Why spend much more on the new bridge than the combined worth of all of the property on the Pennsylvania side—especially given the economic value of the historic bridge, which has been a tourist landmark since its opening in 1903? Together with its historic context in both Pond Eddy, NY and Pennsylvania, it could easily be considered an important part of the economic visioning initiatives surrounding Route 97’s designation as the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway. But all such arguments fell on deaf ears in Pennsylvania. Ultimately, even the New York State Historic Preservation Office, the legally mandated evaluator for New York, became opposed to the project and finally withdrew in 2010 from PennDOT’s review process in frustration.

To make a long story short, after years of haggling and pressuring and deferred maintenance, it looks like PennDOT just might get its new bridge. And Pennsylvania’s motivations are finally making more sense. Just across the river in Pike County alone are 24,280 acres of state game lands. Much of that area has Marcellus Shale under it, and Pennsylvania is not hesitating to open state lands to gas extraction. A look at the locations of local roads and pipelines indicates the importance of the Pond Eddy crossing once gas extraction begins. Back in 2002, those who were concerned about preserving the bridge could not have imagined this scenario. Now the pieces are finally falling into place, and nothing will be sacred.

[Richard Plunz directs the Urban Design Lab at Columbia University’s Earth Institute; and is vice chairman of the Town of Lumberland Planning Board.]