The state Department of Transportation has asked Weissport Council to consider allowing a section of the Lehigh Canal Park running from Weissport to Parryville to be used as a staging area during the reconstruction of the McCall Bridge.
Last week, PennDOT engineers introduced the rehabilitation plans for the bridge to local officials and residents, and the large maps were also available for the public viewing at the Franklin Township Fire Company.
While the project raised some questions, most seemed in favor of seeing the bridge rehabilitated rather than being totally replaced.
The project involves the structural rehabilitation of the existing 16-span bridge that crosses over Weissport, the Lehigh River, Lehigh Canal, Norfolk Southern Railroad and other local roads.
The most recent inspection of the span categorized the bridge as being structurally deficient due to the condition of the substructure units. Besides extending its service life, the proposed project would remove the bridge from the list of structurally deficient bridges and keep it from being weight-restricted for any current legal load.
Weissport council members shared the information they learned at last week's meeting with residents during their regular meeting held Tuesday.
Along with the information they learned last week, council president Gene Kershner also read a letter from Skelly and Loy Engineering Environmental Consultants. It explained that as part of the repair work, access to the bridge will be necessary via the canal towpath underneath the bridge.
This is the section of the canal towpath that runs from Weissport to Parryville.
The access PennDOT is seeking will include using a man lift necessary to repair the bridge piers, abutment and superstructure.
The work will be temporary, but PennDOT said that pedestrians may be inconvenienced during the project.
The letter indicated that PennDOT is aware that the Lehigh Canal Park is a historical, recreational corridor. As part of the Delaware and Lehigh Trail System, it is considered to be a recreational use subject to 4 (f) consideration, meaning that if PennDOT seeks approval to use the property for a staging area, the project must benefit the community as a whole.
The letter asked that a temporary construction easement be allowed for the contractor to complete necessary bridge repairs as shown on the plan.
During the construction, pedestrians will continue to have access and after the project is completed, the property used during the temporary construction phase will be restored to pre-project conditions.
The project is not expected to permanently affect the Lehigh Canal Park.
The 4 (f) finding was determined because it will not result in permanent adverse physical impacts.
The consulting firm asked Weissport to sign a contact agreeing to allow use of the Lehigh Canal Park as a staging area for the project.
"They need access to the bridge and the Lehigh Canal Park is a good resource," said Kershner.
Kershner said he would consider signing the agreement.
"I wonder if the Lehigh Canal Commission got a copy of the letter?" Kershner said.
Council member Tim Rehrig said that Weissport cannot sign the letter because Weissport does not own the property.
"I believe it has to be approved by the communities who are partners in the Lehigh Canal Commission," said Rehrig.
Kershner said he was planning to contact the Lehigh Canal Commission chairman to see if a special meeting could be arranged to gain approval.
"Maybe we could invite the commission members to our meeting to speed things along," said Kershner.
The Lehigh Canal Commission normally suspends meetings during the winter months unless a special session is needed.
Member communities in addition to Weissport are, East Penn, Mahoning and Franklin townships, and the boroughs of Lehighton, Jim Thorpe and Parryville.