Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bridge To Nowhere

(updated 8/1/13 @ 10:25 pm to add that a meeting will be held by Montgomery County officials on August 12 at 7 pm at the Arcola Intermediate School to discuss these and other concerns.  My understanding is that all LP supervisors will be in attendance, as well as Sen. Rafferty and Rep. Vereb.

(updated 7/22/13 @ 7:45 pm to add map links)

LP’s bicentennial tagline, and the theme around which they redesigned their emblem back in 2005, was ‘Bridge to the Future”.  However, a landmark bridge over the Perkiomen, near where the Skippack Creek flows into it, referred to as the “Arcola Road bridge”, will soon become a bridge to nowhere, and there’s no easy, fast or inexpensive fix in sight.

It’s one of only two remaining bridges that allow for local automobile passage across the Perkiomen between Lower Providence and other communities. A third, the Yerkes Road Bridge, was destroyed in 1972 when Hurricane Agnes blew through the area, so the demands on the remaining two are higher.

The bridge is heavily travelled between LP, UP and Collegeville and particularly used as alternative to avoid traffic on the Perkiomen Bridge between LP and Collegeville, especially for those employees of the pharmaceutical firms in Upper Providence.

A county-owned bridge originally built in 1869 and replaced in 1931, the 258’ (total length), 20-foot wide bridge (also known as the “Cider Mill Road bridge”) handles more than 8,900 cars a day, according to Leo Bagley, transportation planner and assistant director of the Montgomery County Planning Commission.

Slated last fall for partial closure due to repairs anticipated to take 30 days, Montgomery County originally promised to keep the bridge in place before constructing a new one, keeping it functional by having a single lane closure with travel restrictions such as local traffic only while being worked on, but that’s no longer an option. The County recently discovered that the bridge is far too dilapidated for that and they are just going to have to close and replace it.

Originally engineered to withstand 40 tons of weight, the County's website still lists the Arcola Road Bridge at a 12 ton weight limit. However this past spring, Montgomery County’s Dept. of Roads and Bridges reduced the weight limitations on the Arcola Road Bridge twice, from 12 tons to 6, and then from 6 tons to 3 tons weigh capacity, so it’s now restricted to allow vehicles weighing no more than 3 tons to cross. In 2010 it was given a structural appraisal of ‘structurally deficient” and a deck rating of ‘poor’.

Locals report that there are boards literally hanging down from the bottom of the bridge that can easily be seen when you drive up to it, and that they often hear chunks falling off into the water. 

Since the bridge will soon be unsafe for traffic of any weight, it’s on an accelerated inspection schedule due to its condition. The plan now is to close it, remove it, and replace it, while running a detour around it. The new bridge will be two lanes (as is now), width to be determined, with a pedestrian sidewalk on at least one side.  The work will involve both deck replacement and structural improvements to the base.

The next inspection is due to take place August 16 or 17, and it is doubtful as to whether it will pass. Either way the odds are substantially against this bridge remaining open until the scheduled replacement time in about a year - best case scenario would be that construction could start in the summer or fall of 2014 – which may not even happen if the funding isn’t in place.

According to Bagley, while all the preconstruction funding is in place and allows for the design work and purchase of required easements, the total costs of $8-$10 million for the actual construction work still need to be allocated. The biggest chunk, about 75%, comes from Federal TIP (transportation improvement program) money; about 15% from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the rest from the County. The County has their portion of the funding in place, having previously done a bond issue to raise the money, and that will roll forward until used.  Bagley stated “It’s a zero sum game...if we get the funding from the state, something else won’t, and vice versa”. Thus, the pressure is on our local elected officials (state Rep. Mike Vereb, and state senators Andrew Dinniman and John Rafferty) to make sure State funding makes it way to this project. Knowing Vereb and Rafferty, I’m sure they’re already working to do what they can to make that happen sooner rather than later.

Unfortunately the County hasn’t been doing a fantastic job of keeping the impacted communities apprised of what’s going on until very recently, although they did permit them to comment on the proposed detour route. Upper Providence has signed off on the portion of the detour that lies within their boundaries. Lower Providence proposed an alternate (here) to that proposed by the County, but no sooner was that submitted for review than PennDOT came back with an alternate version. LP reiterated that they prefer their version.  Ultimately PennDOT has the final say but LP is waiting to hear which way it goes.  

The PennDOT maps (here) are virtually impossible for even transportation experts to make out, but one version for residents south of the bridge involves traffic heading east on Arcola Road, turning right to head south on Eagleville Road, turning right to head south on Park Avenue, right onto Egypt to head west toward Route 422, and then turning right to head north on either Cider Mill Road or Black Rock Road.  From either of those roads, one could turn right to head northeast on Route 29 and then turn right to head south on the upper portion of Arcola Road.

The second version for those north of the bridge directs travelers north on Arcola Road, turning right onto 29 North, and then turning right onto Ridge in Collegeville by Keyser Ford, and proceeding onto either Germantown Pike or further down Ridge depending on their destination.

The main problem I foresee with any official version is that while they illustrate what they hope drivers will do, we all know that motorists will find the fastest and/or shortest paths to follow. In LP's case, I believe many cars will choose to cross over Pinetown Road instead of going down to Egypt, or snake their way north or south on Redtail Road between Arcola Road and Pinetown Road instead of going out to Eagleville Road. If so, it creates additional traffic congestion and safety concerns for residents of those neighborhoods.

As with the regional sewer authority’s middle interceptor, this is another project that straddles both Upper Providence and Lower Providence, with potential impacts for both. The proposed detour route on Cider Mill Road will run right along the same property on the Upper Providence side of the creek as that owned by the Stiefels, the UP couple who would be directly impacted if the middle interceptor is placed on the UP side. This poor couple is literally being sandwiched from front door to back door between major infrastructure improvement projects. Similarly a portion of the detour route in LP runs right by property owned by some of our residents affected by the same project, although they have more land between their actual homes and the proposed projects/detours.

Once the design process and the easement purchases are finalized, the project can be put out to bid. Hopefully, the money will be there when that’s complete so that this bridge doesn’t have to be out of service one more day than absolutely necessary. In the meantime, prepare to wait and allow lots of additional time to traverse in and out of the township into Collegeville and Upper Providence.



James said...

Janice, a temporary traffic signal must be placed at Pinetown and Egypt Rd. Out of the 300+ plus new homes in Providence Oaks and the other subdivisions,I know for a fact that most of those residents work in UPT. PennDot should immediately approve this new temporary signal to alleviate further traffic backup problems at Egypt, Park and Pawlings.

The traffic signals at Level Rd and Ridge Pike, Germantown Pike and Ridge Pike, Ridge Pike and RT 29, Rt 29 and Main St in Collegeville should all be retimed at 7-9 am and at 5-7 pm to handle the anticipated back up of vehicles.

Furthermore, a blinking red light at Pinetown and Eagleville Rd-( concerned about school bus safety too for the middle school)is needed. PennDots map causes additional backup at Egypt, Park and Pawlings at an already congested intersection, will cause the need of a traffic signal at Eagleville and Park and Pinetown and and Egypt Rd and makes the Eagleville and park intersection a very very dangerous intersection by forcing extra left turns at the evening peak hours. There will be someone killed or severely injured at this location- count on it.

Andrew said...

I am concerned of a possible impact on nearby Indian artifacts. LOL

LGT said...

Wow thanks for the info on the imminent closure of the Arcola Rd bridge. That will definitely cause more traffic to be detoured past my neighborhood.. I'm concerned about the increased traffic at Pinetown/Eagleville and Pinetown/Egypt Intersections. Especially with morning commuters and school buses.

Candy said...

Our family has always called it the "green bridge"!

jbar said...

Since most of the traffic is from the pharmaceutical plants let them chip in some more money. My parents have lived on Arcola rd for over 50 yrs and the traffic is ridiculous.

Jeffrey C. Mason said...

Hey Janice,
I am running for Lower Providence Supervisor in 2015 and would like to speak with you about some of your posts as I did some research into them and need your help carrying out next steps as there is some things that need to be addressed to the current supervisor board that i agree with you on.

if you could e-mail me at id appreciate it

concerned Barrington Rd citizen said...

This bridge was scheduled for deck replacement Back in 2009. Who is responsible for this delay? This is ridiculous that it has taken so long for someone to repair/replace this bridge. The community will suffer from someone else's horrible mishandling of this situation!