Local officials seek answers from PennDOT on 926 bridge

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New bridge replacement plans won’t address flooding problems

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

The Rt. 926 bridge over the Brandywine has been slated fro replacement since at least 2001, but now local officials are frustrated that a new state plan won't address the flooding problems at the site.

You may have heard of the “bridge to nowhere” but some local officials are frustrated that the state seems ready to rebuild a local bridge into flood waters — not over them.

Although plans to renovate the Route 926 bridge over the Brandywine Creek have been on the drawing boards since at least 2001, the project seems finally to be getting some priority from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). And as inconvenient as seeing the bridge closed for 12 to 18 months, local township and school officials at least were comforted by the thought that the revised bridge would finally solve the constant flooding problem that leads to the road’s closure four to five times a year.

So, when officials from Birmingham and Pocopson townships discovered that new plans for the bridge renovation only called for a modest increase in the height of the current bridge and virtually no change to the surrounding roadway — especially on the Birmingham side of the creek — they were dumbfounded and demanded an explanation from PennDOT. The original renovation plans called for a drastic rebuilding of the of the entire roadway.

Birmingham’s township supervisors asked Pocopson, as well as local state legislators, to help it get answers as to why the decision was made and whether it can be reversed. Some of the answers to those questions, apparently, will come at a closed-door meeting between local township and school district officials and PennDOT officials on Feb. 9. Further public hearings on the matter will be held before the final plan is approved.

Still, the sudden shift by PennDOT caught many by surprise. Beth Zenuk, chief of staff for State Rep. Steve Barrar (R-160), said PennDOT’s change in plans was a bit of a surprise, but made it clear that Barrar plans to “do whatever we can to fight for the communities and the residents in this area” on this issue. Zenuk also noted that local input can make a difference — citing changes to Rt. 322 in Concord Township that PennDOT agreed to after talks with local residents and officials.

Although a new administration under Gov. Tom Corbett took office last week — including incoming PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch — the decisions appear to have come under the previous management team, so it’s unclear whether the new leadership will uphold the decision.

Of course, there are some issues with the site — including high-tension power-lines running along side the western side of the Brandywine and the fact that the approaches to the bridge on both sides sit in a flood plain. Raising the roadway on either side, while solving the problems with floods closing the roadways, could create an entirely new problem in terms of worsening flooding elsewhere in the immediate area. And, multiple sources confirmed, cost is a major factor. With state looking at a budget deficit of between $4 and $5 billion this year, merely replacing the bridge with a safer, strong replacement with the same flood issues will be much less expensive.

Flooding has been a constant problem at the site, closing Rt. 926 multiple times a year, and at times, even forcing the closure of schools because school buses could not get through to pick up and drop of students.

Assuming that local officials are unable to sway PennDOT, the bridge project is slated to go out to bid late this year, with construction tentatively scheduled to start during the first half of 2012. Aside from the flooding issues, there could also be some contentious discussions about the look the of the bridge — which local officials want to have a look more in keeping with the look of the immediate area. The current metal structure is rusting and something of an eyesore.

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