State Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-122, addressed several concerns with traffic delays caused by repairs to the Thomas J. McCall Memorial Bridge during a brief meeting Monday morning with emergency responders and municipal officials.
Heffley said his stop at the Carbon County emergency management facility came after reading several newspaper articles about backlogs and fielding concerns from residents.
"Our main goal is public safety," Heffley said. "What I want to do is make sure our ambulances can respond as quick as possible. With the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Beltzville Lake, there is a lot of activity going on to the north and east of the bridge, and if we can save seconds or minutes in getting to a situation over there, that is our goal."
Heffley said he was encouraged by the meeting, during which Joni Gestl, administrative coordinator for the Lehighton Ambulance Association, told him several of the ambulances have emergency transponders which can change traffic light signals and quicken response times.
Much was made recently of a July 17 incident when Lehighton was dispatched to Beltzville Lake for a boating accident and a patient with severe bleeding.
The ambulance was escorted by a police vehicle against the flow of traffic through Weissport via an emergency lane created by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Gestl said police were controlling traffic up ahead to create a safe response, but Franklin Township Police Chief Tom Beltz said Monday he got a different account of the ride.
"I was told the police car was out ahead leading the ambulance with no traffic control," Beltz said.
"That puts the department in jeopardy and creates a bad situation when it comes to potential liability. If we get called when there is an ambulance coming over the emergency lane, we will get out there and stop traffic if we have someone available. I have no problem with a police escort if someone is out there controlling traffic."
Heffley said he was encouraged by that type of cooperation between Franklin Township police and the Lehighton Ambulance Association.
"This is why we brought everyone together, to hammer out some of these issues," he said. "We just remind motorists to be cautious, and if they see an emergency vehicle coming, be courteous and get out of the way the best you can.
The $11.8 million bridge project includes deck repairs, concrete and steel repairs, removing and replacing one pier, and replacing of deck joints, back-walls and steel bearings, among other construction.
Calvin Ulshafer, project manager for PennDOT, said detours caused by the bridge work will end Sept. 5 as scheduled.
"At least there is a secondary option," Ulshafer said. "Do you know how many bridges I do in towns where there is no secondary option? Nobody wants to deal with inconvenience, but it's work that had to be done."
PennDOT crews, Ulshafer said, should also be commended.
"This is the only bridge in the state getting a 90-day turnaround," he said. "They are out there with jackhammers seven days a week in the hot sun."
Weissport Mayor Jonathon Troutman complained about crews going through the borough, but Councilman Arlan Moyer was present and said he had no concerns.