Bucks County Herald

Riverkeeper files lawsuit against PennDOT to block Tinicum bridge demolition State DEP has ordered operations cease by spring

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network filed a lawsuit in U.S. Federal Court, Philadelphia, Monday, seeking to block PennDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) from demolishing the historic Headquarters Road Bridge in Tinicum Township in order to replace it with a wider, modern structure.

The lawsuit asserts that PennDOT and FHWA were arbitrary and capricious in many of the actions taken and decisions made in order to advance the pre-determined goal of demolishing the unique and irreplaceable historic Headquarters Road Bridge without appropriate regard for the environmental and community harms that would result.

On Sept. 24, the FHWA issued a Final Individual Section 4(f) Evaluation under the Department of Transportation Act for the project. The act requires agencies to consider all prudent and feasible alternatives and mitigate any potential adverse effects to historic resources – something the lawsuit said they failed to do.

The FHWA has also issued a Categorical Exclusion (CE) to PennDOT for the Headquarters Road Bridge project, which will enable PennDOT to move forward with its plans to demolish the historic bridge rather than rehabilitate the bridge.

The CE means PennDOT does not have to undertake a comprehensive environmental assessment of impacts to help PennDOT and FHWA pursue an alternative that will avoid unnecessary environmental and community harms.

“The Tinicum Creek and Headquarters Road Bridge are beautiful and irreplaceable assets to Tinicum Township, Bucks County and our Wild & Scenic Delaware River landscape. There is no defense for PennDOT or the federal government’s decision to destroy the bridge and inflict damage on the exceptional value Tinicum Creek, especially when they are doing so in violation of the laws that are intended to help avoid such bad decisionmaking,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

“What is even more shocking is that Gov. Tom Wolf would sit idly by and let this happen, while Rep.Marguerite Quinn and Sen. Bob Mensch are actually advocating for and supporting the devastation. Rather than advocating for the loss of the historic bridge, our state and federal officials should be joining with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network to call for construction of a temporary bridge that would allow safe crossing within a matter of months, and to support rehabilitating the historic structure so as to preserve the irreplaceable history and natural beauty of the crossing at a lesser cost to taxpayers and a higher benefit to the region.”

In the lawsuit, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network says that as early as 2004, PennDOT predetermined a final course of action to replace the historic bridge long before any consideration of whether the structure could be rehabilitated was conducted.

In the legal complaint, the organization alleges that the agencies failed to engage in all possible planning to minimize harm to the historic resource, the exceptional value Tinicum Creek, the environment, and downstream property owners. The lawsuit alleges that PennDOT defined the purpose and need of the project so narrowly as to exclude rehabilitation as an option and that “PennDOT disregarded its maintenance obligations on the bridge in the hopes that the agency could argue that the bridge could not be rehabilitated and needed to be replaced.”

“For those who are claiming we were just about to get a bridge but this litigation foils it, one look at the project documents shows that is untrue and PennDOT has been the one holding things up. The TIP shows that PennDOT has not secured the funding to undertake the project, and the fact they haven’t gotten any permits indicates that PennDOT is not ready to open Headquarters Road in the near future,” said Damon Aherne, longtime resident who supports rehabilitation of the historic bridge.

The Headquarters Road Bridge crosses the Tinicum Creek, a Pennsylvania designated Exceptional Value waterway within the Lower Delaware Wild and Scenic River District. The bridge is a contributing element to the Ridge Valley Rural Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network and experts believe the loss of the historic resource and the environmental impacts on the Exceptional Value stream will violate the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

“This is a land of narrow, winding, country roads and one-lane bridges that are well-suited to the scenic, rural character of the place. A two-lane bridge here – at the heart of the Ridge Valley Rural Historic District – is both unnecessary and out of place. I’m also concerned that building a two-lane bridge here will cause new safety problems by encouraging higher speeds and more truck traffic in an area where you don’t want to see those things,” said Mark Stout, a transportation planning expert.

The Riverkeeper Network is seeking a judgment finding the PennDOT evaluations were not conducted in accordance with the law. The suit also seeks to prevent PennDOT from conducting any site clearance, construction activities or preparation of construction activities.


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