Bucks County Herald

PennDOT continues pursuit of exclusion from EIS

Target for completion of Headquarters Bridge is 2020

CLIFF LEBOWITZ

PennDOT is continuing to pursue exclusion from providing an environmental impact statement (EIS) for its two-lane replacement proposal for Tinicum’s Headquarters Road bridge at Sheephole Road.

The target completion of the project is the end of 2020. The present one-lane bridge has been closed for seven years.

The clarification of project status was provided by Eugene Blaum, assistant to PennDOT’s District 6 engineering executive, and Ryan Whittington, PennDOT’s consultant project manager, in a May 23 interview. They also stated, in a subsequent email, that a temporary bridge “would be subject to the same laws and regulations that the department is working through for the permanent bridge,” and that “this coordination would dramatically increase the time it would take to move a temporary bridge out to construction, compared to the estimates of 3-to-4 months” they have seen in published articles.

Tinicum residents, with others in the area, have actively opposed the two-lane replacement proposal, proposing rehabilitation of the present one-lane structure instead. They say the EIS is needed to evaluate potential adverse effects from the two-lane proposal, which includes enlarging the bridge footprint, and moving one of its abutments downstream.

In particular, the EIS is seen as evaluating if erosion of private property could take place, and how far downstream. It would also consider ecological consequences for Tinicum Creek, which is designated an Exceptional Value Stream, and the effect on the Ridge Valley Historic District, of which the bridge is a part. In addition, residents claim damaging erosion has already been observed as a result of two-lane replacements that have been installed nearby, and that they can lead to higher vehicle speeds that raise new safety concerns.

Regarding the lawsuit filed by Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) last summer, to block the EIS exclusion, and then withdrawn, Whittington said it had been filed against a preliminary step, and that it was withdrawn when PennDOT agreed to notify DRN if final approval for the exclusion was issued. That approval would come from the Federal Highway Administration, which would pay for the replacement bridge.

He said the present step in the exclusion effort was a four-agency sign-off on the particulars of a commitment to mitigate the impact of the two-lane replacement. It includes attention to environmental and historic concerns originally addressed by PennDOT, and supplemental input from the public, through opportunities for individual and group consulting parties.

Whittington acknowledged there were differences of opinion between PennDOT and one-lane preservation advocates on the level of erosion threat presented by the two-lane proposal, and what was needed to address it.

He insisted that sufficient hydraulic and hydrologic expertise had been brought to bear in PennDOT’s evaluation, through licensed professional engineers with experience in those areas, toward gaining a waterway permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers. Blaum added that PennDOT “stands by its study.”

Asked further if there was any special professional certification for hydrologists, Whittington said there was not. Volunteer scientists working on the current Bridgeton/Nockamixon/Tinicum groundwater ordinance project have claimed an important contribution from hiring a professional hydrologist.

Regarding statements that the bridge had deteriorated unnecessarily due to PennDOT maintenance neglect, Whittington said some repairs could have been done better, but that appropriate maintenance was performed over the life of the structure, which was built originally in 1812, with a deck replacement in 1919.

Asked about the two-lane project deriving from a standard state template, he said it was a reflection of daily traffic volume, and evidence of vehicle impacts on the bridge that were not recorded as accidents.




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