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Fate of Delaware River Bridges Unknown After Mixed Messages at Annual Meeting

BINGHAMTON – The Upper Delaware Council, Inc. reports that the annual meeting of the New York-Pennsylvania Joint Interstate Bridge Commission (JIBC), held May 16 in Binghamton, left the fate of the 10 Delaware River bridges somewhat up in the air.

Despite reading a statement from New York State Department of Transportation (NY DOT) Commissioner Joan McDonald calling for an evaluation of whether historic preservation funds rather than capital project investments are available to address the 10 structures’ needs, Commission members voted to proceed with a schedule of contract lettings for seven bridge projects – including the controversial replacement of the historic Pond Eddy Bridge.

However, the Commission acknowledged that of the $49,340,000 approved for the capital projects, only half of that funding has been allocated by the respective states. The amount flagged in the unfunded category is $25,117,000.

2012 JIBC Chairman and NYS DOT Region 9 Director Jack Williams said that while a revised interstate bridge preservation policy is being initiated, “We still owe it to the safety of the traveling public to carry on.”

JIBC voting member Jennifer Langan, an attorney representing the Pennsylvania Treasury Department, initially proposed deferring a vote “until we get our act together.” She then made a motion to authorize only those emergency repairs that have to be completed within this fiscal year, while delaying the longer-range projects until a new agreement is in place.

PennDOT District 4 Executive George Roberts pointed out that the Commission had faced the same issue last year of having a significant unfunded portion of capital projects and said that delaying the preliminary engineering phases for needed work is undesirable from a bridge preservation standpoint.

Following further discussion, Williams said he would entertain a motion to approve the schedule and thanked his three fellow commissioners for their unanimous assent. “I anticipated a little struggle, with this information coming in late. The (NY DOT) commissioner wants us to modernize our agreement. As the bridges age, they become much more demanding. By them being unique, the repairs are expensive. We still need to take care of them,” Williams said.

Pond Eddy Bridge

The approved contract schedule includes a $9.5 million earmark in 2013 for construction of a new Pond Eddy, NY-Pond Eddy, PA Bridge (built in 1904), although New York State’s $4.75 million half-share is listed in the unfunded column. Three million dollars has been allocated since 2010 for preliminary engineering, studies, and final design, but has not yet been fully expended.

“There is a lot of controversy in the media regarding the selected alternative of replacement,” Williams acknowledged.

He asked PennDOT Assistant District Executive for Design Debbie Noone to summarize how that decision was reached. Noone reported that engineers had studied rehabilitation options to bring the single-lane, wooden-deck bridge’s weight limit from its current posting of seven tons up to either the 18 tons for which it was originally designed or to a 36-ton load.

They found that the need to replace all of the steel members would eliminate the Petit Truss historic appearance of the bridge and ultimately cost more than replacement due to the causeways that would be necessary to install because of limited site access.

Also considered and rejected were developing overland routes from various directions and offering to purchase the approximately 26 properties on the Pennsylvania side of the bridge to eliminate the need for the crossing.

Williams concluded, “The most prudent and feasible option that services the community, the PA Game Lands and other resources, and from a cost standpoint, is replacement.”

Noone noted that the environmental clearance process included convening a Pond Eddy Bridge Design Advisory Committee of local stakeholders who met three times to provide input to the DOT agencies and their team of consultants.

At their last meeting on March 29, Noone said that the committee’s vote was split between two designs, a dual truss or three-span steel structure.

“We’re discussing it internally now,” she said, adding that PennDOT as the lead for this bridge is working with NY DOT to complete its State Environmental Quality Review Act process for the bridge that connects to the NYS Route 97 Upper Delaware Scenic Byway in the Town of Lumberland.

In public comment, Dr. Larysa Dyrszka from Friends of the Pond Eddy Bridge referenced letters or resolutions that have been written by the Town of Lumberland, Sullivan County, U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey, NYS Senator John J. Bonacic, and NYS Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, all expressing “grave reservations” about the wisdom of demolishing this rare historic bridge and the amount of the capital investment required by NY to help re-build a bridge that serves such a limited PA population.

“They’re all talking about fiscal responsibility,” she said. “It seems that everybody is on the same page and yet, what I saw today was action forward as usual. I didn’t see any response to Commissioner McDonald’s comments.”

Glenn Pontier, administrator of the Gerry Foundation’s Sullivan Renaissance Program, said that he had resigned as the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway, Inc.’s representative to the Pond Eddy Bridge Design Advisory Committee out of his disagreement with replacing the bridge and how the meetings were conducted. “It was strictly about aesthetics and not about the underlying issues,” Pontier said.

He contended that two independent bridge experts he consulted dispute the assertion that rehabilitation of the Pond Eddy Bridge to 18 tons is not a viable option and questioned why the weight limit would need to be any higher than that.

Pontier suggested that the cost to extend any of three existing, rough roads on the PA side would be less than the proposed bridge replacement’s price tag. He further stated that a Columbia University study had calculated a total assessed value of the properties in Pond Eddy, PA of approximately $2.25 million.

“Less than a dozen people live there year-round” besides seasonal use, Pontier said. “If Pennsylvania wants to provide to these people all the same rights and benefits as other residents, offer them a buyout or build a road.”

Addressing the JIBC, Pontier said, “I always viewed this group as the guardians of these bridges. The Pond Eddy Bridge is on the National and State Registers of Historic Places in a nationally-protected river area.

Every official at every level of New York State has called for protecting this bridge. I am here as a supplicant to make a genuine appeal that this bridge be spared.”

Capital Projects

The six other capital projects approved on the Fiscal Year 2012 schedule are: Skinners Falls, NY-Milanville, PA Bridge (1901) – The bridge has been closed to traffic with detours in place since April 3, after engineers discovered faulty vertical truss member cords during a routine inspection.

The JIBC approved $80,000 at the May 16 meeting for emergency repairs; however, commencement of the expected one to two weeks worth of work awaits the issuance of required permits for which there is no current timetable in place.

The Commission also hopes to begin preliminary engineering this year for a major, $8.5 million rehabilitation of the Skinners Falls-Milanville Bridge scheduled for 2017. Work would include addressing the wooden floor beam system, trusses, and painting the steel members.

Preliminary engineering is also targeted to begin in 2012 for a 2014 replacement of the decks and sidewalks, and painting, of the Narrowsburg, NY-Darbytown, PA Bridge (1954) at a cost of $3,992,000.

The Callicoon, NY-Damascus, PA Bridge (1961) has $500,000 programmed in 2013 to acquire rights-
of-way, do studies, and develop a final design for a rehabilitation plan that will occur in two phases. In 2014 at a cost of $7.26 million, engineers intend to:

replace the decks on spans 1, 2, 4 and 5 with pre-cast panels; install a new railing; replace deck joints; and
repair, membrane and asphalt the entire deck surface. The second phase of work in 2017 would address the substructure for an additional $4.4 million.

The Kellams, NY-Stalker, PA Bridge (1990 major re-build) is on the list for preliminary engineering
and rights-of-way acquisition in 2013, and a 2014 replacement of the steel grate decking and other repairs, for a total of $3.6 million.

The Cochecton, NY-Damascus, PA Bridge (1952) will be subjected to preliminary engineering in 2014 for a 2015 project to remove and replace membrane and the asphalt wearing surface, replace joints, and
patch the deck’s underside at a total cost of $5,108,000.

Finally, the Port Jervis, NY-Matamoras, PA Bridge (1939) will get a fresh coat of paint on all its steel
truss members in 2015 at a cost of $3.4 million now that a major rehabilitation that began in the spring of 2010
has been completed.

All of the work is contingent on the availability of funding. To round out the roster of the 10 Upper Delaware River crossings, no capitalprojects are currently identified for the Hancock, NY-Buckingham, PA Bridge (1937)
; the Lordville, NY-Equinunk, PA Bridge (replaced in 1992); or the Barryville, NY-Shohola, PA Bridge (replaced in 2006).

Other reports delivered at the May 16 Joint Interstate Bridge Commission meeting which staff from the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) and National Park Service (NPS) Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River attend annually were:

  • A summary of work completed on each bridge in 2011-12;
  • An illustrated presentation of findings from the annual inspection of the 10 bridges conducted on April 12, 2012;
  • General Maintenance Fund expenditures of $104,688 from April 1, 2011-March 31, 2012; and
  • General Maintenance Fund expenditures of $111,550 for the current fiscal year.

Maintenance costs include all work done on the bridge structures, approaches, as well as for snow and ice control. The expenditures are shared equally by NY and PA.


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