UDC endorses rehabilitation of Skinners Falls Bridge

By LINDA DROLLINGER
Posted 4/7/21

NARROWSBURG, NY — At its April 1 meeting, the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) voted unanimously (minus one abstention) to recommend rehabilitation of the 1902 Baltimore truss bridge connecting …

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UDC endorses rehabilitation of Skinners Falls Bridge

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NARROWSBURG, NY — At its April 1 meeting, the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) voted unanimously (minus one abstention) to recommend rehabilitation of the 1902 Baltimore truss bridge connecting Skinners Falls, NY and Milanville, PA.

“This structure looks natural in its setting. It’s part of the area’s environment and character. Anything else would be out of place,” said UDC Chair and Damascus Township Representative Jeff Dexter of the bridge assigned to the National Register of Historic Places. Dexter grew up within walking distance of the bridge, on the New York side. Although he now resides on its Pennsylvania side, the bridge has been a constant in his life, an integral part of daily travel and leisure and an icon of the landscape he calls home.

UDC Executive Director Laurie Ramie added, “Of the three options available for the bridge—rehabilitation, replacement or abandonment—the last was never viable. We need a river crossing at Skinners Falls.”

The question, then, was whether to rehabilitate the single-lane, wooden-plank-deck bridge that can no longer support vehicles larger than a standard car or pickup truck, or to replace it with a bridge capable of supporting larger, heavier vehicles, such as delivery trucks, ambulances, fire trucks and buses.

With hospitals containing Medivac heliports on both sides of the bridge (Grover M. Hermann Hospital, a unit of Garnet Health, on the New York side and Wayne Memorial Hospital on the Pennsylvania side), ambulance traffic is a matter of life and death, as is the transport of firefighters and their equipment.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), lead agency for the bridge project, has identified five criteria to be weighed in determining the bridge’s fate: emergency response, economic importance, historic value, roadway connectivity and long-term functionality. The last is, to some, the most important. For much of the 21st century, the bridge has been closed for repairs. No sooner is it reopened than new structural defects are discovered to be safety hazards, the last of which happened in October 2019. The bridge has been closed to both vehicular and foot traffic ever since.

PennDOT has engaged a firm of consulting engineers, AECOM, to weigh the importance of various factors to community stakeholders. To accomplish that objective, AECOM has developed a brief survey about past and future uses of the bridge. It is available to stakeholders both online and in paper format. Not only is the survey designed to gauge the relative importance of each of the criteria listed above, but it solicits additional commentary as well. Stakeholders are encouraged to take the survey and provide original ideas, suggestions and concerns. The online survey is available on PennDOT’s website at www.bit.ly/3umwibb. A paper survey form is available by calling the project hotline at 610/234-5148 or, via email at skinnersfallsbridge@aecom.com.

In addition to survey results, stakeholder needs and wants are being sought from a Project Advisory Committee (PAC) comprising local government officials, regulatory agencies and local planning experts. Among PAC representatives are Damascus Township Supervisors Joe Canfield and Steve Adams, Town of Cochecton Supervisor Gary Maas, UDC Executive Director Laurie Ramie, Wayne County Commissioner Brian Smith and Sullivan County Planning Director Freda Eisenberg. Each of those individuals represents not only their own organization or municipality but also all of its constituents. The public is invited to share its questions, concerns and suggestions with PAC representatives, too.

Skinners Falls campground owner Rick Lander did; he asked Laurie Ramie if there wasn’t a better, more attractive way to prevent entry onto the closed bridge than ugly, intimidating orange “closed” signs surrounded by a hill of dirt.

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