Purposes and needs

Evaluating the Skinners Falls Bridge

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 12/8/21

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 …

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Purposes and needs

Evaluating the Skinners Falls Bridge

Posted

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. 

Conflicting interests

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."

Click here for a link to the Purpose and Need document and the public comment links.

Click here for more coverage of the Skinners Falls Bridge.

Skinners Falls Bridge, Milanville, Purpose and Need document, public comment

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  • ircha

    Let's Stop the Insanity!!!!

    I believe the purpose and needs statements are clearly stacked in favor of what the engineering firm Aecom wants to do ( a new enlarged bridge that makes them more money in engineering fees) and not what people actually stated at the online meeting in 2021.

    I believe that the transportation needs that are presented are a biased version, counter to what people in the area actually stated they wanted and needed.

    There are a lot of statements that present the need of emergency vehicles for rescue operations and fire trucks and yet there has been no evidence provided or presented of any problems occurring in missions conducted in the past few years that the bridge was actually closed. As such, these needs seem artificially exaggerated. They merely present what the engineering firm Aecom wants, a new enlarged bridge.

    This whole survey is a stacked deck.

    There are no questions on the survey that would help the community make their feelings truly known.

    For instance, an unbiased survey would add the following questions:

    1) Do you feel that the Purpose and Needs Statements are biased or unbiased? Why or why not

    2) Do you believe that the initial survey utilized in gathering information for this purpose and needs statement had been written in a biased or unbiased manner as evidenced by the questions that were chosen? Why or why not.

    3) Do you believe that the engineering firm Aecom has been biased or unbiased in their handling of the previous surveys whose questions and answers were utilized in preparing the current purpose and needs statement.

    4) Are you aware of any emergency situations that were not handled properly because of the bridge closure for the past few years?

    5) The purpose and needs statement stated that the fire departments of Lake Huntington and Equinunk had a need for the bridge to accommodate their vehicles, etc. Are you aware of any situations where the fire departments were quoted in any local publication that they would have had a better outcome in any mission if the bridge was open for the last two years?

    6) The purpose and needs statement stated that the fire departments of Lake Huntington and Equinunk had a need for the bridge to accommodate their vehicles, etc. Are you aware of who at these fire departments made these statements? Did the purpose and needs statement tell us specifically who made these statements and whether or not that person had the authority to speak on behalf of those respective organizations? Were the statements made by these organizations made after a meeting of all representatives of the fire departments?

    7) Do you believe that enlarging the bridge would be a disruption to the beauty and character of Milanville and the surrounding communities.

    8) Do you believe enlarging the bridge is merely a first step in eventually enlarging the road between the Milanville bridge and Beach Lake.

    9) Do you believe that an enlarged highway between the Milanville bridge and Beach Lake would bring more or less traffic to the area?

    10) Do you believe a new enlarged bridge and road would bring stores like Dollar General, beer distributers, and such along the sides of the road?

    11) Do you believe that an enlarged bridge and the ensuing extra traffic would result in fewer or more car accidents?

    12) Do you believe that an enlarged bridge and the ensuing extra traffic would result in more safety or less safety for children and other campers at the campsite on the New York side of the Milanville bridge?

    13) Do you believe that an enlarged bridge would bring more or fewer large trucks to the area.

    14) Do you believe that we received any evidence or results of an environmental impact study showing us things like extra pollution, extra noise, extra light, etc.

    15) Do you believe that we received any evidence or results of a historical impact study showing us any disruption to the historical character of Milanville bridge and Milanville.

    16) Do you believe that there will be more or fewer injuries and deaths caused by an enlarged bridge, more traffic, and larger trucks/vehicles ?

    17) Do you believe you were presented with a traffic study that provided information such as how many more car accidents, pedestrian injuries, pedestrian deaths would be caused by enlarging the bridge? Would such a study be useful to you?

    In my opinion, the entire survey was prepared in an unprofessional manner and would never pass muster in the professional community.

    After reviewing the questions I presented above, I hope that you agree that the current bridge should be repaired and let's stop the insanity.

    Saturday, January 1 Report this