DUNMORE, PA — The New York-Pennsylvania Joint Interstate Bridge Commission confirmed the successful negotiation of a new design to replace the historic Pond Eddy Bridge and approved plans for major rehabilitations of the Upper Delaware River crossings at Skinners Falls, NY-Milanville, PA; Narrowsburg, NY-Darbytown, PA; and Cochecton, NY-Damascus, PA at their annual meeting held May 15 at Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) District 4-0 headquarters.
Demolishing the 1904 Pond Eddy, NY-Pond Eddy, PA Bridge that earned a 1988 listing on the National Register of Historic Places has been fought by preservationists since the Bridge Commission first identified it as a capital construction project 20 years ago.
More recently, some elected officials and groups representing New York State interests questioned the justification to invest a projected $12 million to build a new bridge to modern interstate standards to serve approximately 27 properties with less than a dozen year-round residents in Pond Eddy, PA.
Those arguing for a new bridge cite the limitations of the 7-ton weight limit on the single-lane, wooden deck Petit Truss structure that provides the only vehicular access to a land-locked community surrounded by PA State Game Lands and Delaware State Forest acreage, and the increasingly frequent need for emergency repairs to maintain safe passage.
Engineering reports concluded that rehabilitation of the deteriorating bridge was not a viable option since it would ultimately cost more than replacement, provide a shorter service life, require more disruptive maintenance, and necessitate replacing all the steel members which would not preserve the historic appearance.
NYS DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald convened a meeting on June 29, 2012 to hear the concerns of New York State-based opponents of lead agency PennDOT’s original proposal for a 30-foot-wide, two-lane, heavy truss or girder replacement bridge and pledged to reach out to her counterpart, PA Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch, to discuss a compromise.
NY DOT also investigated the potential to construct overland routes from four different options on the PA side to follow up on complaints that this alternative had not been fully explored.
A report dated September 12, 2012 dismissed the notion as unfeasible, finding that it would likely require building or improving 3.5 to five miles of new road through heavily forested, mountainous terrain that could conflict with the Norfolk-Southern Railroad right-of-way and cost an estimated $40 million. Total route lengths between the NY and PA sides of the river at Pond Eddy would exceed 20 miles.
PennDOT Assistant District Executive for Design Debbie Noone advised the Commission on Wednesday that as a result of those studies and discussions, an agreement has been reached among both states and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to proceed with a new bridge at a reduced scope and cost.
The new design calls for a 22-foot-wide truss bridge with a single, 14-foot lane and a six-foot sidewalk that could be converted into a second travel lane if necessary, according to a NY DOT briefing provided on April 26.
The 40-ton bridge (a load capacity required by FHWA since this crossing is the only access to Pond Eddy, PA) would have lighter-looking steelwork reminiscent of the bridge’s current curved truss appearance. The 504-foot-long, two-span bridge would be built on the same, slightly-upstream footprint as originally planned and require an approximately 15-month construction period.
Instead of a $12 million price tag, the new bridge is expected to cost $9.6 million and provide a 75-year life expectancy.
Noone stated that the Pond Eddy Bridge Design Advisory Committee of consulting parties which met three times from Dec. 2011 through March 2012 to discuss aesthetic options will be reconvened “early this summer” to hear a report on the compromise agreement and that “we will move on to final design hopefully this year.”
Audience member Pat Carullo commented that the NY-PA Joint Interstate Bridge Commission approved $3 million for the Pond Eddy Bridge’s preliminary engineering and final design phase and questioned, “How do you suddenly have a more pleasing structure when you said you couldn’t do it for the last decade?”
He also asked how the causeway will be handled that is necessary to accommodate the equipment to build the bridge, expressing concern over it potentially impeding the river’s free flow, boaters, fish, wildlife, and creating a flood risk over two recreational seasons.
PennDOT District 4-0 Executive and 2013 Commission Chairman George J. Roberts said that the final design for all aspects of the project is still a work-in-progress, and there will be numerous reviews to satisfy and permits to secure before construction begins.
“The Upper Delaware River is a treasure and we wouldn’t want it blocked,” he added. “The river is very sensitive and we always try to handle things in an environmentally-sensitive manner.”
In other capital construction news, the 1901 Skinners Falls, NY-Milanville, PA Bridge which was closed on Dec. 15, 2012 after an in-depth inspection raised safety concerns over support beams, was scheduled to re-open to traffic on May 20.
The Commission approved an expenditure of $389,200 for those repairs to stringers and floor beams, while earmarking $1,364,000 to do preliminary engineering, various studies, and final design to rehabilitate the single-lane, wooden plank bridge with a 7-ton load capacity. No timetable was given for the actual rehabilitation work.
PennDOT expects by mid-June to receive the steel that is currently being manufactured for the 1954 Narrowsburg, NY-Darbytown, PA Bridge to commence a $538,000 contract to replace corroded sections of the metal grid deck. The bridge has been downposted to a 15-ton weight limit for single vehicles and 27 tons for combination vehicles like tractor trailers in the meantime. Traffic will continue in one lane with temporary signals throughout the project, which is expected to take 4-6 weeks.
Once those emergency repairs are completed, it is anticipated that the bridge will remain restricted to one lane until 2015. The Commission’s schedule of proposed contract lettings allocates $1,533,812 to design more long-term repairs of the Narrowsburg bridge.
The 1953 Cochecton, NY-Milanville, PA Bridge will also have preliminary engineering, various studies, and final design done for major rehabilitation, with $708,000 earmarked for this planning effort in 2014.
The Commission approved an estimated $103,800 to be expended this fiscal year (April 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014) on general maintenance for all 10 bridges, compared to the $115,265 spent last fiscal year.
A team of DOT representatives from NY and PA conducted their 2013 inspection of all the bridges on April 25 to prepare for the annual Commission meeting.
The most costly repairs tagged at $24,700 will take place on the 1961 Callicoon, NY-Damascus, PA Bridge, which is showing “significant pavement deterioration with large pot holes in [the] deck which are retaining water”, exposure of piers, and a failing paint system, according to the inspection report.
The other bridges that PA and NY jointly maintain are: Lordville, NY-Equinunk, PA (built in 1992); Hancock, NY-Buckingham, PA (1937); Kellams, NY-Stalker, PA (1990 major re-build); Barryville, NY-Shohola, PA (2006); Port Jervis, NY-Matamoras, PA (1939).
An 11th bridge across the Upper Delaware River, the Roebling Aqueduct built in 1848, is federally owned by the National Park Service and connects Minisink Ford, NY to Lackawaxen, PA.
[Laurie Ramie is executive director of the Upper Delaware Council.]