About 30 people gathered at the Narberth municipal building Thursday night to learn the fate of the Narberth Avenue Bridge -- both when a new one will be constructed and what might be done in the meantime.
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) closed the bridge -- which links the north and south sides of the city -- to motorists on Aug. 29 due to unsafe conditions. The bridge was also closed for almost two months in late 2011.
Why the old bridge is unsafe
Craig Suhoskey, project manager from Pennoni Associates Inc., said the bridge was built in 1902 and last updated in 1947. PennDOT inspects each bridge statewide every two years. Most of those inspections, Suhoskey said, are merely visual. That's why the fact that the bridge is severely unstable has been undiscovered for quite some time, he said.
Suhoskey added that it is unclear as to how rapidly the level of safety of the bridge could further decline.
Meg, a north side resident who would only provide her first name, said the fact that the bridge's unstable nature was only discovered is worrisome.
"How safe is this bridge with all the children? That worries me," she said. "I really want the children of Narberth to be safe."
Another woman added, in regards to the recently-discovered issues: "there's a possbility that bad stuff could have happened."
A new design
Suhoskey presented preliminary plans for the new $6.5 million bridge that will replace the current one.
The single-span steel structure will be over 71 feet long and over 41 feet wide. The brick, concrete and steel bridge will also be 20-to-24 feet above the train tracks, whereas the current one is only 18 feet above them. Suhoskey said this is standard and generally safer.
The new bridge will also have a barrier between the road and sidewalk, as well as fencing all around the sides.
Suhoskey said PennDOT will fund 95 percent of the bridge cost through the Local Bridge Program.
There are also plans to construct a temporary pedestrian walkway about 20 feet away from the current bridge.
Suhoskey said his company hasn't arranged anything with contractors for the sidewalk, but it'll likely be fenced in -- for safety reasons -- and built to be reused by the borough.
How construction will work
The bridge project is in its very early stages.
Suhoskey said the current designs are preliminary and a more permanent one should be finished by the end of 2012 -- as well as sampling research, PennDOT and Amtrak approval of the project and other tests.
In 2013, he said, final plans will be developed and the borough will apply for approval with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.
The year 2014 marks the start of the construction, which could take anywhere from 12-to-15 months, he said. The rather lengthy construction period is due to train usage.
"Amtrak runs over 100 trains a day from Narberth," he said. "That makes things a little bit slow."
The electricitric current in the power lines running under the bridge would have to be shut off -- especially when it comes to demolishing the old bridge -- which leaves only a period between 1 and 5 a.m. for construction.
However, Suhoskey said residents don't need to worry about late night only construction. Certain portions can be done during the day. He estimates there were only be a couple of 4-to-5 day weeks requiring night construction.
What will be done in the meantime
The first step is for the bridge committee, which as been working on this project for about five years, to vote to decide whether repairs should be made to put the current bridge back into action. Those repairs, according to Suhoskey, should cost about $250,000 -- in addition to about $7,000 to determine whether the bridge can handle a minimum of three tons.
The borough, Suhoskey said, would have to front all the money.
The entire process, if approved by the committee, could take up to two months.
Two local business owners spoke up to say they approved of the idea of the repairs and the cost might be worth it.
Jed Riddell, owner of Ricklin's Hardware, was one of those business owners.
"I think it has affected the entire Haverford Avenue businesses," he said. "There are any number of studies that have proven that if you inconvenience a customer consistently, that customer will find an alternative source for whatever you're selling."
But some felt otherwise.
"We're paying for two bridges if this is repaired," said a man in the crowd. "That's a problem."
Suhoskey also added that putting stress on the few stable aspects of the structure could add extra stress to deteriorate them.
Committee member Heidi Boise said the committee is likely to make a decision on the repairs at the council meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 3.
Boise said that if the committee doesn't approve the fixes, she's interested in exploring marketing and advertising options to customers shopping at local businesses effected by the closure.
Graphics of the new design could not be provided.
Stay tuned with Patch to see more updates as they come.