The Phoenix Reporter & Item (http://www.phoenixvillenews.com)

Potential bridge closing stirs controversy in Lower Providence


By Carl Rotenberg, crotenberg@21st-centurymedia.com

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

LOWER PROVIDENCE — More than 600 residents crowded into the Arcola Intermediate School auditorium Monday night to learn when the Arcola Road bridge over the Perkiomen Creek will close to traffic.
If the bridge passes a Friday inspection and subsequent six-month inspections, the bridge will close at the beginning of 2015 and be closed while a new $7.7 million, three-lane bridge is built in the same location.
“We’ve had many partners on this project,” said Montgomery County Commissioners’ Chairman Josh Shapiro. “You will see leaders who are all working together to address our infrastructure needs. Sixty-two of our Montgomery County bridges are structurally deficient.”
Montgomery County Commissioners’ Vice Chairman Leslie Richards said the bridge built in 1931 was “functionally obsolete and structurally deficient. There is a weight limit of three tons. It was placed on a six-month inspection schedule.”
“(The new bridge) will be a modern bridge. The lanes will be wider than currently. It will reduce congestion. There will be no load restrictions. There will be two shoulders for bike lanes in both directions,” Richards said. “The detour was approved to handle wide loads.”
The proposed 5.5-mile road detour around the bridge would take Arcola Road eastbound to a right turn onto southbound Eagleville Road, a right turn onto southbound Park Avenue, a right turn onto westbound Egypt Road and a right turn onto northbound Cider Mill Road.
Richards said the 15-to-18-month construction schedule is slated to begin in winter 2015.
State Sen. John Rafferty, R-44th Dist., said, “We are doing what we can to accelerate the replacement of the bridge.”
“This is not unique to Montgomery County,” Rafferty said. “We were able to get another bridge reopened three months earlier than expected.”
State Rep. Mike Vereb, R-150th Dist., said, “It is taking a lot of work and muscle to get this done. We are 40 percent through the planning stage. The funding is going to be there. We are going to rebuild the bridge.”
After a resident complained about the 5.5-mile detour, Vereb said that the detours would be handled by local police departments.
“We understand the significance,” Vereb said. “We understand this will disrupt all of your lives,”
Specialty Engineering of Philadelphia will do the bridge inspection on Friday, said Susan Guisinger-Colon, a senior project manager for McCormick Taylor.
“PennDOT will have to concur with the calculations,” Guisinger-Colon said. “It is possible the (decision-making) process could take more than one day.”
Guisinger-Colon said that if heavy rains before Friday significantly raised the water level of the Perkiomen Creek, the inspection work would have to be postponed until the water level receded.
One man demanded, “If PennDOT closes down the bridge Friday, what will we do?”
One man asked if there had been consideration given to awarding monetary incentives to the contractors to speed up the construction process. Vereb said that was being considered.
“We are going to have an aggressive timeline,” Shapiro said.
One man, who said he was a homeowner affected by the construction, said “no one had contacted him yet about the project.”
“If they close this bridge, it will be a full-day inspection. As soon as we know anything, you will know it,” Vereb responded.
A Troutman Road resident asked if she might find out on Friday that she would have to use the detour route on Friday afternoon.
Vereb said that was a possibility if the engineers decide the bridge has to close on Friday.
“I’ve been involved in this bridge process since 2006. The schedule has been pushed out and pushed out. It is not like no one knew the bridge would need to be replaced,” Lower Providence Supervisors’ Chairman Richard Brown said.
“It has been on the replacement schedule for many years. I think it could be closed on Friday, but I hope I’m wrong.”
The county has plans to build a new, three-lane bridge with three 11-foot travel lanes starting in the winter of 2015, said Kenneth Starr, the director of assets and infrastructure for the county. The $7.7 million bridge would have two 5-foot shoulders that would be used by pedestrians and bicyclists.
Eastbound traffic on the new bridge will be restricted to one lane. The westbound traffic would include a center-turning lane that will allow a left turn onto Cider Mill Road and a right lane for traffic continuing onto Arcola Road.
The Federal Highway Administration will pay 80 percent of construction costs, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) will pay 15 percent and Montgomery County will pay 5 percent.
The two-lane bridge currently handles an average of 8,250 vehicles each day, according to a 2013 traffic count.
The bridge is not slated to be closed to traffic until construction begins in 2015 unless the bridge inspections require an earlier closing, Starr said.
There were 15 holes in steel floor beam plates documented in a February bridge inspection by McCormick Taylor engineers. The holes range in size from 2.5 inches in diameter to 24 inches long by 5 inches high, according to the report.
After the February inspection, bridge engineers reduced the weight limit on the bridge from seven tons to three tons.
“If the inspection determines it would not be safe until the next six-month inspection,” Starr said, “then the bridge would be closed immediately.”
Information about the bridge project will be presented on the Montgomery County Web site at www.montcopa.org/arcolaproject