MIDDLESEX TOWNSHIP — A historical review is delaying the possible replacement of the currently closed Wolf Bridge in Middlesex Township, and at least one township supervisor is not happy about it.
“I can tell you the residents that have contacted me want a new two lane bridge, and they want it now,” said township Supervisor Steven Larson. “The county, and the people and the residents here, really need it replaced.”
The 108-year-old steel truss bridge on Wolf Bridge Road was closed in September 2013 after an annual inspection determined it was unsafe to use. The possibility of restoring the county-owned bridge is being reviewed by the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission, and Larson said organizations from other states are pressuring to have the bridge preserved.
“They don’t use it — I doubt if they’ve even seen it,” he said. "Why should they have any say in holding it up for us?"
There is about a two-mile detour required to bypass the bridge, and the closure puts additional traffic pressure on other routes such as North Middlesex Road, he said. In addition to the inconvenience, the bridge closure can cause a delay for emergency service vehicles trying to access someone’s home, he said.
Kirk Stoner, Cumberland County's director of planning, said the bridge may not be reopened until 2017, although it all depends on the speed of the federal and state review process.
The reviews that are necessary are complicated by the fact that the bridge is being paid for with a grant administered by the Harrisburg Area Transportation Study, Stoner said. The approximately $3 million replacement cost will be funded with 80 percent federal, 15 percent state, and 5 percent local funding. In order to receive the federal and state funding, the county must complete a “feasibility study” on maintaining the bridge, he said.
County officials believe it makes more sense to replace the bridge than to rehabilitate it, especially since it has fractures in critical elements that could ultimately cause a collapse and it is only a single lane, Stoner said.
In additional to restricting the amount of traffic that can pass through the heavily traveled commuter route, there are safety issues associated with the single lane because poor sight distances make it difficult to see cars approaching from the other side of the bridge, he said. Still, they must prove that replacement makes more sense than rehabilitation to the satisfaction of the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission.
Howard Pullman, a spokesman for the commission, said commission officials had a few questions about the initial feasibility study, which does not necessarily mean it will not ultimately allow the bridge replacement. The commission is required to perform those reviews under the federal Historic Preservation Act, Pullman said.
“Nobody’s delaying anything purposefully — it’s just due diligence,” he said. “It’s part of the process that goes into any project.”
Larson encouraged residents who would like to see the bridge replaced sooner to write letters to the county and to the commission.