Municipalities say they can’t afford to fix troubled bridges

Local municipalities say they want to repair the structurally deficient bridges they own, but the price is steep and funds are low. Even if townships can do the repairs, other road projects will suffer, township officials said.

From Lycoming County’s smaller, locally owned bridge inspection in 2012, 14 bridges stood out as the worst of the worst:

Williamsport: Southview Avenue over East Branch Grafius Run, imminent failure

Cascade Township: Pleasant Stream Road over Potash Hollow Run, in serious condition

Clinton Township: East Blind Road over Black Hole Creek, imminent failure

Fairfield Township: Fairfield Church Road over Bennetts Run Tributary, serious condition

Franklin Township: Sulky Road over tributary to Laurel Run, serious condition; Sulky Road over tributary to Laurel Run, critical condition; Smith Road over tributary to German Run, serious condition

Jordan Township: South Temple Road over Little Indian Run, serious condition

Lewis Township: Upper Powys Road over Daughertys Run, serious condition

Lycoming Township: Horn Road over Little Gap Run, serious condition

Penn Township: Logue Hill Road over Beaver Run, critical condition; Temple Road over Jakes Run, serious condition

Pine Township: Airport Road over tributary to Hughes Run, serious condition; English Run Road over Shingle Mill Branch, serious condition.

Williamsport City Engineer John Grado said its 9-foot structurally deficient bridge was closed to vehicular traffic after the county’s inspection last year. He said there isn’t funding to improve or replace it, so chances of it getting fixed in the near future are slim. Drivers use Market Street to go around the closed bridge, he said. Meanwhile, the city is addressing other bridge needs on Reach Road and Trenton Avenue, he said.

Clinton Township is taking action by putting its bridge project out to bid, said roadmaster Lanny Wertz. They closed the bridge to traffic over a year ago, he said. The cost to replace the 10.3-foot bridge is projected between $200,000 and $300,000. That will come out of Act 13 funds, the township’s general and capital funds, Wertz said. Because of the cost, the township had to put all other roadwork on the back burner.

“We’d like to keep up with our roads, but we can only do one or the other when we have a big project like a bridge,” Wertz said.

There is a weight limit posted at 10 tons, he said.

Fairfield Township Supervisor Chairman Grant Hetler said the bridge in his township that failed inspection could hardly be classified as a bridge: it’s an 8.1-foot bridge with two metal pipes with pavement between, he said. Hetler said the pipes were replaced five years ago. There are some erosion problems at the bridge, and they will fix it, Hetler said. A weight limit is posted at 10 tons, he said.

The price also is steep: about $300,000. Hetler blames that “absurd” price on prevailing wage. “We could fix that bridge ourselves for a fourth of that cost,” he said.

Dale Stackhause, Jordan Township roadmaster supervisor, said his township’s 16 1/2-foot bridge is a small, one-lane bridge that goes to a hunting cabin, and still is open. Stackhause said he hasn’t seen the paperwork for the bridge’s deficiencies.

“There’s no plan of action because there’s no money,” Stackhause said. All the township can afford to do is post warning signs and weight limit signs, he said, as it remains open.

Larry Deremer, roadmaster for Lycoming Township, said the township’s 14 1/2-foot deficient bridge is a problem, but supervisors don’t know what to do at this point. The I-beams, which support the bridge, are rusting away and they’ll have to replace the beams, Deremer said. The bridge is open, but is restricted to car weight.

Again, the issue is money. Deremer couldn’t reference at the time what the project would cost, but noted the tax base isn’t as strong since the township has a lot of “open country,” and the township hasn’t raised taxes in “a while.”

Since other areas are more heavily trafficked, this bridge will have to wait until next year, he said.

Some progress has been made. Since Lycoming County’s decision to inspect bridges under 20 feet in 2010, of the 103 structurally deficient, locally owned bridges, nine have been replaced or repaired, said Mark Murawski, county transportation planner.

A federal transportation bill passed last year “squeezes” the state, directing funding to major highways that carry most of the traffic, Murawski said. It’s up to the states, counties and local municipalities to increase funding investments, he said.

“If Pennsylvania says no (to increase funding for transportation), the roads are going to fall apart in short order,” Murawski said.

Calls to officials at Cascade, Franklin, Lewis, Penn and Pine townships were not returned by press time.