MILANVILLE, PA — After an extensive process of review, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has released a draft Purpose and Need statement for the Skinners Falls Bridge …
MILANVILLE, PA — After an extensive process of review, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has released a draft Purpose and Need statement for the Skinners Falls Bridge project.
The Skinners Falls Bridge crosses the Delaware River connecting Milanville in Pennsylvania to Skinners Falls in New York. It has been closed several times in the past decade for emergency repairs, and remains closed following an October 16, 2019 inspection which identified significant structural deterioration.
PennDOT has been investigating different possibilities for the bridge's repair or replacement since that closure, and has drafted the Purpose and Need document to aid in the consideration of those possibilities.
The "purpose" portion of that document is meant to spell out the reason behind the project and to summarize the problems it might address, according to slides from the second meeting of the project's Project Advisory Committee.
In the draft document, that purpose is described with a single sentence: "The purpose of the project is to provide a safe and efficient crossing of the Delaware River at Skinners Falls for cars, trucks, trailers, emergency response vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians."
The rest of the document—the "needs" portion—assembles survey results, data analysis and stakeholder conversations to provide a factual foundation for that purpose.
The document finds evidence that cars and trucks would use the bridge regularly were it open, with traffic counts conducted between 2002 and 2018 showing average daily traffic of around 388 vehicles. Local residents and businesses attested to their regular use of the bridge, and to the economic impact it makes.
The document also found evidence that emergency vehicles have need to access the bridge when involved in river rescues. "Rescue operations depend on access to both sides of the river… It is critical that rescue personnel and equipment from both Pennsylvania and New York, including boats and trailers, have quick and efficient access to both sides of the river near Skinners Falls."
Local fire departments, including the Lake Huntington Volunteer Fire Department and the Equinunk Volunteer Fire Company, stated the need for the bridge to accommodate their vehicles as well, for filling up their tanks and for responding to mutual aid calls.
The document also highlighted a need for bicycle and pedestrian access of the bridge. The bridge in its current form is a single-lane bridge without specific bicycle or pedestrian accommodations; the document cited a survey in which 80 percent of respondents stated that bicycle or pedestrian access was needed.
According to the slides from the second PAC meeting, the Purpose and Need document is meant to "drive[s] the process for alternatives consideration." Once the needs of the bridge are established, the project team can start designing potential alternatives for repairing or replacing the bridge, making sure only to consider alternatives that meet the established needs.
Several of the needs identified in the document may conflict with one another as the design process moves forward.
The Purpose and Need document includes a section remarking on the current bridge's historical significance, citing its "cultural significance to the local community and larger historic preservation community."
"[The project team] will strive to avoid impacts to the bridge. If avoidance is not possible, minimization and mitigation of cultural and environmental impacts will be implemented in accordance with the applicable environmental laws," the document goes on to say.
The stated need for emergency vehicles to access the bridge may stand in contrast to this aim.
The document states the original capacity of the bridge as being nine tons; the emergency response vehicles cited by local emergency services in the document range from 4.5 tons to 31 tons in weight.
A footnote in the document leaves additional room for the possibility of the bridge's final capacity exceeding the original capacity of the current structure. While the capacity of a connecting road to the bridge, River Road, is currently posted at 10 tons, the footnote makes a point to mention that it can handle vehicles of heavier weights, and that "a weight posting on River Road does not necessitate a weight limit on a connecting bridge."
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