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The bridge too far

Published June 16. 2011 05:01PM

An accident that caused damage earlier this month to the covered bridge in Lower Towamensing Township is sparking debate.

The historic bridge, located in the Little Gap section of the township, was among the topics of discussion at a meeting of the township's board of supervisors on Tuesday.

Lehighton State Police, which listed the incident as a hit-and-run, recently issued a statement saying that Joseph Chiariello, 42, of Albrightsville, has admitted he was the driver who caused damage to the bridge on June 3. The police report stated that charges are pending.

Resident Pete Terp said the bridge is a priority that needs to be addressed.

"I'm very concerned about it," Terp said. "We've had two very close calls on it."

Terp then suggested that the height limit needs to be dropped to seven feet, and that crash bars should be put up at both ends to preserve the bridge.

Supervisors Chairman Ron Walbert also said the bridge is a priority.

"We have to find a permanent solution," Walbert said. "I couldn't agree more."

Walbert noted that the Carbon County Commissioners have indicated that the bridge - the only one of its kind still utilized by motor vehicles in the county - will be repaired. The township is also set to do repairs on the second bridge in that area, located on Covered Bridge Road.

But, resident Herman Bollinger said he doesn't believe Terp's idea will work.

"Pete's got a good idea, but it ain't going to work," Bollinger said. "What are you gonna do with the school bus."

Terp said he doesn't believe buses should be allowed to travel over the bridge.

Bollinger then offered his stance on the matter.

"I'm no inspector, and I'm no engineer, but this is positively wrong to close that bridge, especially with gas prices," Bollinger said. "That bridge can be opened up."

A preconstruction meeting was held at the covered bridge Wednesday morning.

According to an article published in the TIMES NEWS last Friday, the county has worked to repair and restore the covered bridge since 2008.

In March of that year, the commissioners learned that the structure was in poor condition.

The commissioners took immediate action, hiring Stoney Ridge Fabricators, Inc., to weld steel plates over the holes and reweld the steel I-beams, as well as order two 16-foot by 10-foot bridge decking to replace the deteriorated sections.

But after further review, it was determined that the bridge was in need of larger repairs and was in an extremely deteriorated condition.

The bridge was reopened shortly after because if it remained closed, residents and emergency personnel would be forced to take a 20-mile detour. This was because a bridge on Lower Smith Gap Road that was closed for repairs at that time.

To alleviate some stress on the bridge, the commissioners voted to lower the weight limit to five tons, or the size of a pickup truck or small van. The new limit became permanent on May 1, 2008 and is still in effect.

Repair work to the bridge was completed and the county began to pursue federal funding through the Transportation Enhancement Act, to restore the bridge's decking and other structural pieces. Former Congressman Paul Kanjorski backed the project, but congress never acted on the matter.

In other business, supervisors:

• Tabled the purchase of a jumping jack.

• Tabled a request by the Aquashicola Fire Department to look into a Knox box ordinance. In the meantime, township solicitor Jim Nanovic has been instructed to prepare a revised ordinance.

• Agreed to switch its energy provider from PPL to Patriot Energy, contingent upon the review of an actual contract.

• Approved garbage waivers for Gladys Owens and Nikola Steel-Jessop, upon verification that Owens' property has been vacant for at least the last six months.

• Approved a contract with Hanover Engineering to redo the township's zoning and Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance.

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