As construction work winds down on one Tamaqua bridge, PennDOT is gearing up to replace another one.
The reconstruction of the Center Street Bridge, along south Route 309, started about a year ago, with the construction of a temporary bridge that allowed traffic to continue flowing along the same route. Officials are hoping that the new bridge will open Thursday.
The replacement of the East Broad Street Bridge, between Pine and Greenwood streets, presents a different challenge, however. There is no where to build a temporary structure, and due to the nature of the bridge construction, the entire bridge must be shut down while it is undergoing repair, resulting in a complete detour of traffic. PennDOT is expecting to start the project in April.
Tamaqua Borough Council held a special meeting last night to discuss the implications for the downtown area and to help residents and business owners start to plan for the changes. Councilman David Mace opened the meeting by explaining the nature of the construction and the current projected timeline.
"It's a stone arch bridge," said Mace, "This isn't a bridge where you can take one lane down and work on that, and move traffic through the other lane. Once you affect any part of the bridge, you affect the entirety."
Mace also stressed that this project is "beyond the borough's control."
"PennDOT is preparing for the bids to go out in December, go through the awarding process, and starting construction in April."
Mace said that the project is anticipated to last 18 months.
Due to the fact that Route 209 is a state road, Mace explained that the official detour route must be on state roads, which includes a trip to Hometown, to SR54, out through Nesquehoning, where SR209 can be picked up, back through Lansford, to reach the East End of Tamaqua.
"Obviously, that's impractical for everyday use," said Mace, however, he did stress that tractor trailer traffic is going to need to follow that detour. For local traffic, council suggested either a north or south route along Greenwood Street to either Mauch Chunk Street to the north or Cedar Street to the south. Travelers heading north or west could use Pine Street to return to SR309 and travelers heading south could used Cedar Street to get to 309. Mace said that PennDOT will survey local roads prior to the project and return them to their original state after the project, to help alleviate the additional wear and tear on them.
Council President Micah Gursky said that approximately 4,400 vehicles travel over the bridge daily.
Borough manager Kevin Steigerwalt said that the borough is working with PennDOT to make the project flow as smoothly as possible.
"There are things they can do, signage, adjusting the traffic signals, things that can be adjusted on the fly. They can make repairs after the project is done," he said. "We have also requested additional manpower for the police department, however, they can't do that."
"Signage is only as good as the people reading it," said Mace, as the borough discussed needing signs announcing the detours in Hometown, Lansford, and West Penn, to help warn motorists.
Tamaqua Police Chief David Mattson raised concerns about the difficulty of removing traffic, particularly tractor trailers, once they are past the detour signs. Mattson also expressed concerns that even though emergency personnel have a plan to get around the detour, when the area is bottlenecked, that will be difficult.
Mayor Christian Morrison went back to the delays and hassles that were caused by the 48-hour shut down of south 309 earlier, related to the Center Street project.
"Forty-eight hours was painful enough. I can't imagine 18 months. To police it is impossible, we won't get anything else done. To draft our volunteers to deal with PennDOT's problem is out of the question. PennDOT needs to come up with assistance in a big way," said Morrison.
No PennDOT officials were at the meeting.
Mace also brought up the probability of parking restrictions along the construction area and the detours.
"It's an unpleasant thought," he said, but suggested that the borough modify any restrictions as the project continues to cause the least amount of disruption to the businesses and residents in the area.
Linda Yulanavage, the executive director of the Tamaqua Chamber of Commerce, expressed the frustrations of many of the businesses in the area.
"Communication is so important. I knew nothing about this," she said. "We have businesses that rely on that traffic. This is not going to be easy."
James Stoves, the chairman of the Ministry Council at Bethany Church, which is located adjacent to the bridge, said that his congregation is currently working with a local business to see if their members can park in their lot and be bused to the church for services.
Several residents suggested that there be a "local traffic only" barricade that allows traffic to be able to flow up to the construction area, essentially making a U-turn at the barricades.
Regina Moyer, the owner of Regina's Beauty Shop, questioned how her older patrons would be able to access her shop during the construction.
"I'll have to tell my customers I'll come pick them up in the morning, I'll do what I have to do. This is how I pay my bills. This is a big thing for me," she said.
Council only has a short window to get many of these requests submitted to PennDOT, as they must be included in the bid package, which goes out in December.
"This is the third PennDOT project, and let's call a spade a spade here, their track record has been less than stellar," said Mace. "It has improved with Dennis Toomey's input. I hope we continue to have someone who is willing to listen and communicate with us."
State Rep. Jerry Knowles also attended the meeting and pledged to help council work with PennDOT. He also stressed that the bottom line is that the bridge has been declared structurally unsound and needs to be replaced before something tragic happens.
"We'll make it happen," Knowles said.