LOWER PROVIDENCE — The news drivers on the Arcola Road Bridge have all been dreading was delivered Friday afternoon when state inspectors immediately closed the busy bridge following an inspection “due to concerns for the safety of users.”
According to an informational release from Montgomery County, the “closure took effect immediately, and traffic will be diverted from the bridge via a signed detour. While the bridge is closed, Montgomery County and PennDOT will continue to aggressively pursue the engineering, design and other necessary steps to replace the bridge.”
The proposed 5.5-mile road detour around the bridge will take Arcola Road drivers 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.
The two-lane bridge currently handles an average of 8,250 vehicles each day, according to a 2013 traffic count.
The closure is not a complete surprise.
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.
A new $7.7 million three-lane bridge is planned for the same location.
More than 600 residents packed the Arcola Intermediate School auditorium Monday night to learn when the bridge, which crosses over Perkiomen Creek, would close.
County officials told the residents that should the bridge pass inspection, it could stay open until the beginning of 2015.
However, Friday’s inspection indicates officials could not wait that long to close the bridge.
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 situation is not unique in Montgomery County, where 62 bridges are structurally deficient, Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro told the crowd Monday.
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 five-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.
For more information, visit www.montcopa.org/arcolaproject.