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Route 903 bridge, parking discussed at meeting

Published July 26. 2013 05:03PM

The Route 903 Bridge project is moving forward, officials report.

During the Carbon County commissioners' meeting on Thursday, Commissioner William O'Gurek addressed two pieces of correspondence regarding the upcoming bridge project in Jim Thorpe.

The first piece of correspondence from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission was regarding the Aug. 2, 2012 application of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for approval "to replace the existing above-grade crossing with a new relocated bridge where state Route 903 crosses three existing tracks of Reading, Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad and one track of Norfolk Southern Railway in Jim Thorpe."

In the order, the PUC notes that "the existing bridge is a five-span bridge, with four spans consisting of twin continuous steel plate girders and one span consisting of steel multi-girder construction." The span is supported by concrete abutments and piers, which cross the Lehigh River.

PennDOT has been working on plans for the construction of a new bridge, which will be located approximately 810 feet to the north of the existing bridge, for the last few years. The $37 million project is expected to start early next year and will be funded by 80 percent federal funds and 20 percent state funds.

The new bridge will be a 961-foot steel and concrete structure, which a reinforced concrete deck, two 12-foot wide traffic lanes, a 14-foot wide right turn lane going southbound, and an eight-foot shoulder on the northbound lane. There will also be a median barrier that will separate vehicular and an eight-foot wide sidewalk.

O'Gurek explained that the PUC order grants aerial construction and drainage easements to PennDOT over the railroad tracks during the project.

In the second piece of correspondence from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, it outlines UGI Utilities' plan to replace a four-inch gas line, which is currently located under the Route 903 bridge; with a six-inch gas main, encased in an eight-inch casing and installed under the Lehigh River.

In other matters, a number of Jim Thorpe business owners again asked the commissioners to reconsider the $10 parking fee on weekends.

Dan Hugos of Amazing Jim Thorpe, the former Jim Thorpe Chamber of Commerce, asked if the county has discussed the parking fee after he and a number of business owners presented their feelings on the matter.

"I wanted to present a few faces of the people affected by it (parking fee)," he said. "Just to make the issue as clear as possible that it isn't just strictly a tourism issue. These are people that make their living and are supported by visitors, sure there are waiters and waitresses but they are also business owners and accountants and carpenters. These are family sustaining jobs that we need in this county, especially in this difficult economic time, to continue what we do and have the town look as lovely as it does.

"We want to work with you in the most civil way possible," Hugos added. "What we are asking you to do is consider your course and change it."

Betty Lou McBride, owner of the Old Jail Museum, noted that the jail is down 200 people for June and said it was because of the increase in parking fees.

"The parking increase is really going to hurt the downtown," she said.

Barrett Ravenhurst of the Emporium of Curious Goods said the weekends are terrible because of the fee increase. The store is now closing early because of lack of people in the town.

"You think I spent 26 years in this town and now going to be 70 years old and to have something like this happen, you're wrong," he told the commissioners. "I'm going to keep fighting this and so is everyone else here. If it wasn't a man made problem, if there was nothing you could do about it, then that's one thing; but it's a man made problem and the men that are making the problem have to fix it."

Lisa Lux, co-owner of the Mauch Chunk 5&10, asked what is the biggest reason that the county can't change the fee back to $5?

Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, responded, saying he feels that the businesses haven't given this change an opportunity to play out.

He said that he thinks weather and the economy have played roles in the lower than normal number of visitors.

He also pointed out the expenses that are associated with the lot.

Nothstein said this is not just a Jim Thorpe problem with fewer visitors.

Lux said that tourism helps the community and this fee increase is hurting the town.

Bob Dages of Jim Thorpe said he was impressed with the county's effort with cleaning up the parking lot.

He also noted he bought a property from the county at sheriff sale and the deed did not include a paper road on the property.

He said he wouldn't have purchased the land if he knew his driveway was county property.

Dages suggested that there is an opportunity to make additional parking near the 100 block of West Broadway in Jim Thorpe.

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