By Laurie Ramie
Upper Delaware Council, Inc.
DUNMORE – The New York-Pennsylvania Joint Interstate Bridge Commission confirmed the successful negotiation of a new design to replace the historic Pond Eddy Bridge and approved plans for major rehabilitations of three other crossings, at Narrowsburg, Skinners Falls and Damascus.
Demolishing the 1904 Pond Eddy, NY-Pond Eddy, PA Bridge that earned a 1988 listing on the National Register of Historic Places has been fought by preservationists since the Bridge Commission first identified it as a capital construction project 20 years ago.
More recently, some elected officials and groups representing New York State interests questioned the justification to invest a projected $12 million to build a new bridge to modern interstate standards to serve approximately 27 properties with less than a dozen year-round residents in Pond Eddy, PA.
Those arguing for a new bridge cite the limitations of the 7-ton weight limit on the single-lane, wooden deck Petit Truss structure that provides the only vehicular access to a land-locked community surrounded by PA State Game Lands and Delaware State Forest acreage, and the increasingly frequent need for emergency repairs to maintain safe passage.
Engineering reports concluded that rehabilitation of the deteriorating bridge was not a viable option since it would ultimately cost more than replacement, provide a shorter service life, require more disruptive maintenance, and necessitate replacing all the steel members which would not preserve the historic appearance.
NYS DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald convened a meeting on June 29, 2012 to hear the concerns of New York State-based opponents of lead agency PennDOT’s original proposal for a 30-foot-wide, two-lane, heavy truss or girder replacement bridge and pledged to reach out to her counterpart, PA Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch, to discuss a compromise.
NY DOT also investigated the potential to construct overland routes from four different options on the PA side to follow up on complaints that this alternative had not been fully explored.
A report dated September 12, 2012 dismissed the notion as unfeasible, finding that it would likely require building or improving 3.5 to five miles of new road through heavily forested, mountainous terrain that could conflict with the Norfolk-Southern Railroad right-of-way and cost an estimated $40 million. Total route lengths between the NY and PA sides of the river at Pond Eddy would exceed 20 miles.
PennDOT Assistant District Executive for Design Debbie Noone advised the Commission on Wednesday that as a result of those studies and discussions, an agreement has been reached among both states and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to proceed with a new bridge at a reduced scope and cost.
The new design calls for a 22-foot-wide truss bridge with a single, 14-foot lane and a six-foot sidewalk that could be converted into a second travel lane if necessary, according to a NY DOT briefing provided on April 26.
The 40-ton bridge (a load capacity required by FHWA since this crossing is the only access to Pond Eddy, PA) would have lighter-looking steelwork reminiscent of the bridge’s current curved truss appearance. The 504-foot-long, two-span bridge would be built on the same, slightly-upstream footprint as originally planned and require an approximately 15-month construction period.
Instead of a $12 million price tag, the new bridge is expected to cost $9.6 million and provide a 75-year life expectancy.
Noone stated that the Pond Eddy Bridge Design Advisory Committee of consulting parties which met three times from Dec. 2011 through March 2012 to discuss aesthetic options will be reconvened "early this summer" to hear a report on the compromise agreement and that "we will move on to final design hopefully this year."
Audience member Pat Carullo commented that the NY-PA Joint Interstate Bridge Commission approved $3 million for the Pond Eddy Bridge’s preliminary engineering and final design phase and questioned, "How do you suddenly have a more pleasing structure when you said you couldn’t do it for the last decade?"
He also asked how the causeway will be handled that is necessary to accommodate the equipment to build the bridge, expressing concern over it potentially impeding the river’s free flow, boaters, fish, wildlife, and creating a flood risk over two recreational seasons.
PennDOT District 4-0 Executive and 2013 Commission Chairman George J. Roberts said that the final design for all aspects of the project is still a work-in-progress, and there will be numerous reviews to satisfy and permits to secure before construction begins.
"The Upper Delaware River is a treasure and we wouldn’t want it blocked," he added. "The river is very sensitive and we always try to handle things in an environmentally-sensitive manner."