A temporary repair made last week to the Thomas J. McCall Memorial Bridge in Weissport -- which carries Route 209 traffic and connects Routes 248 and 443 -- had a second, longer-lasting temporary repair made yesterday.
Last Thursday, wooden cribs were placed atop a column near the west side of the bridge to support a bent rocker bearing. Tuesday, the cribbing was removed and steel was welded next to the bearings.
In addition, officials of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) met with the news media beneath the bridge to assure the public that the bridge is safe; that even if the rocker bearing should fail, the bridge is not in any danger.
Present at the press gathering were Michael W. Rebert, district executive of PennDOT: Kamlesh A. Ashar, assistant bridge engineer; and Bill Richards, director of field support for state Rep. Keith McCall. The bridge is named for Keith's late father, who also was a member of the Pa. House of Representatives until his untimely death on Christmas Eve in 1981.
"We're here today to let the public know the bridge is safe," said Rebert. He said I-beams were welded into place next to the bent rocker bearing for added support.
It was explained that if the rocker bearing failed, the steel I-beam is capable of supporting the bridge.
In a statement from his Harrisburg office, McCall remarked, "Today's installation of steel supports to replace temporary wooden stabilizers will help maintain the safety of the bridge, but today's work is a short-term fix, not a long-term permanent solution."
He added, "The bridge is literally rusting to pieces right before our eyes, and we simply can't keep throwing good money after bad and rushing to make emergency repair after emergency repair."
Rebert said there will be a study made, which might be completed by the end of the year, to determine if the bridge should be replaced or rehabilitated.
He said replacement of the bridge, which handles about 23,000 vehicles per day, would cost $40-to-$50 million. Rehabilitation would cost about $20 million.
If it is determined that the bridge should be replaced, the earliest the project would be done would be late 2012 or early 2013. Acquisition of homes would be a requirement for constructing a new span.
Richards said McCall is a realist regarding economics and the financing of a new bridge, but "The main issue is safety. Inevitably, it has to be replaced."
Attending the gathering were two members of Lehighton Borough Council, President Grant Hunsicker and Vice President Scott Rehrig.
Rehrig said the bridge serves as "the gateway to Carbon County."
"It's long overdue," Rehrig said, "When you stand under the bridge and look at the deterioration, it's a little horrendous."
Hunsicker agreed, adding that the replacement span should have four-lanes since it is likely traffic volume is expected to substantially increase on the bridge, especially after planned Super Wal-Mart and Lowes' stores are constructed along Route 443.
Ashar said the bridge has 18 rocker bearings. They control movement, rotation due to vibration, and taking the load to the piers.
The newly added steel supports have no function unless the bearings fail. They would then be the back up support.
The bridge is of deck truss construction. In 2007, a bridge of similar construction collapsed in Minneapolis, killing 14 people. After that bridge collapse, all deck truss bridges were evaluated.
On a possible score of 100, the McCall bridge got only 29 points and was listed as the fifth-worst such bridge in Pennsylvania.
McCall emphatically remarked, "I advocated very strongly to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler that replacing this bridge has to be moved to the very top of the priority list. While a new bridge cannot be engineered, designed, and built overnight, we've reached a point where the people of Carbon County cannot, and should not, have to wait any longer to get the process moving."
The matter of the wooden stabilizers was brought to light by Weissport resident John Haupt, who saw them while playing tennis with his wife. He sent photos of the wood cribbing to the news media and to the office of McCall.