LOWER PROVIDENCE — Thought it inconveniences more than 8,000 daily drivers, inspectors looking over the Arcola Road bridge had no choice but to close it Aug. 16 after they found increased deterioration since February, including deep holes.
“The floor beams are deteriorating at an accelerated rate, and additional holes and deterioration were found since the previous February 2013 inspection,” said Lung-Yang “Leon” Lai, a project manager for Specialty Engineering Inc. of Bristol, Bucks County.
“Due to the additional deterioration, we performed a load analysis on the deteriorated members and determined that the bridge can no longer sustain the present three-ton posted weight limit. We are recommending the bridge be closed as soon as possible.”
Lai recommended installing Type III barricades with “Bridge Closed” signs at each end of the bridge over the Perkiomen Creek to prevent vehicles from accessing the bridge and “Bridge Closed Ahead” signs and a “200 Feet Ahead” plaque at the advance intersection with Level Road.
The inspection report to Kenneth Starr, the Montgomery County director of assets and infrastructure, included one photograph describing “advanced section loss with five holes in the web adjacent to Girder 2 connection.”
Another photograph referred to “exposed and loose rebar end along left curb” next to the roadway surface.
The two-lane bridge, built in 1931, handles an average of 8,250 vehicles each day, according to a 2013 traffic count. After the February inspection by McCormick Taylor engineers, the weight limit for the bridge was reduced from six tons to three tons. The February inspection detailed 15 holes in the steel floor-beam plates ranging in size from 2.5 inches in diameter to 24 inches long by 5 inches deep, according to the report.
The 5.5-mile road detour around the bridge closing takes Arcola Road east onto southbound Eagleville Road, then to southbound Park Avenue, westbound Egypt Road and northbound Cider Mill Road.
Montgomery County officials held a public meeting Aug. 12 at Arcola Intermediate School, attended by more than 600 residents, to explain the condition of the bridge and to detail the construction time line for building a three-lane, $7.7 million replacement.
The engineering design for the new bridge has not been completed yet and portions of more than nine properties on both sides of the bridge will have to be acquired. Construction is expected to begin in January 2015 and last 15 to 18 months, county officials said. The Federal Highway Administration will pay 80 percent of construction costs, PennDOT will pay 15 percent and Montgomery County will pay 5 percent.
“The money will be available in 2015,” said Frank Custer, county director of communications, “unless someone drops a ton of money on us before then.”
Lower Providence Township Manager Richard Gestrich and four Lower Providence supervisors visited the bridge on the day it was closed but were unable to talk to the engineers because they had left the bridge to get more reliable cellphone service. Township officials were told earlier that the engineers were explicitly told not to discuss their findings with township officials, Gestrich said.
“This is going to be very difficult for the residents of Lower Providence,” Supervisor Jill Zimmerman said. “At the end of the day you have to keep people safe. Safety is the most important thing.”
“There is going to be an uproar,” supervisors’ Vice Chairman Don Thomas predicted. “A whole lot of people will be upset.”
Lower Providence officials had known about the deteriorating condition of the bridge for several years, Thomas said.
“There is only so much we can do as a supervisor,” he said. “It is not our bridge and it is not our funding. We have been ringing the alarm on it for years.”
The new bridge will have three 11-foot travel lanes and two 5-foot shoulders that will be used by pedestrians and bicyclists, Starr said. Eastbound traffic on the new bridge will be restricted to one lane. The westbound traffic will 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.