New Plan Fast-Tracks Bad Bridge Replacement

PennDOT is moving forward with plans to fix more than half of the state’s structurally deficient bridges – dozens of which are in the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys – faster than ever before.

Under a new contracting method, the transportation agency is focusing on replacing between 550 and 650 bridges across the state that are similar in design.

"Some of the bridges you might not get to under the normal process for 15 to 20 years we’re hoping to replace as part of this project," said PennDOT Deputy Press Secretary Erin Waters-Trasatt.

Unlike past bridge replacement projects where PennDOT would dole out many contracts for each or small groupings of bridges, one team will win an overall contract and handle administering the design, engineering and construction of the new bridges. That team will also hire subcontractors to complete the projects.

"We anticipate that they will be giving out contracts to a number of other Pennsylvania contractors to complete the projects," she said.

The bridges that will be replaced have not yet been chosen, but PennDOT has identified a list of 998 spans that are structurally deficient and recommended for replacement. Of that number, 81 are in Southeastern Pa. and range in age from 10 to 160 years old.

The oldest bridge in our area, built in 1854, carries Stony Garden Road for 36 feet over Haycock Creek in Nockamixon Park, Bucks County, Pa. Further South in Hatboro, Pa., a 128-year-old span allows drivers on Warminster Road to cross the Pennypack Creek.

In Philadelphia, a 264 foot long, 6 lane section of Broad Street, just north of Callowhill Street and outside the old Philadelphia Inquirer building, is also structurally deficient. The bridge was constructed in 1895 to cross now defunct Reading Railroad lines.

The youngest spans, a pair of bridges that carry PA Route 33 over the Bushkill Creek in Easton, Pa., opened in 2004.

Waters-Trasatt said this is the first time a public-private partnership, which was made allowed via a law change in 2012, will be utilized on a bridge replacement project. She says PennDOT will retain ownership of the bridges and continue to handle minor maintenance like cleaning up debris and fixing potholes. But the builder would be on the hook for any major repairs that would need to be made to the spans.

"We anticipate that it’ll help with the structure of the bridges and that the builders may design a better bridge in the beginning that will extend the lives of some of the bridges," she said.

A final request for proposals on the project will be released later this year and then a qualified team will be awarded the contract. PennDOT hopes to start replacing some of the bridges in 2015. The project does not have a completion date.

Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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