Closed until further notice: $565K needed to finish work for bridge
The new D & L pedestrian bridge remains closed until a retaining wall and trail connection can be added. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
For a short time last week, the Mansion House Bridge in Jim Thorpe welcomed its first riders and walkers, but the project as a whole is far from finished.
The new pedestrian bridge crossing the Delaware & Lehigh Trail over the Lehigh River will remain closed until a retaining wall is constructed.
On Thursday night, Jim Thorpe Borough Council, a pass-through agency for a portion of the bridge’s grant funding, unanimously approved submitting a request for an additional $565,286 from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
While the county-owned bridge itself is finished, the extra grant money is needed for the construction of a retaining wall and trail connection on its east side near the Jim Thorpe wastewater treatment plant.
Bids for the remainder of the work came in at around $1 million, according to borough officials.
“The money we are requesting from DCNR in the grant amendment is the additional funds,” Jim Thorpe Borough Manager Maureen Sterner said Thursday night. “The remainder of the cost we already had in place from DCNR and the Department of Community and Economic Development.
Elissa Garofalo, Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor executive director, said D & L was on track to simultaneously open the bridge and trail on June 11, “until we had to file an amendment to the Department of Environmental Protection permit (a manhole was inaccurately depicted on as-built drawings).”
“When bids were received earlier this month, we learned two water/sewer lines and a manhole have to be replaced,” Garofalo said. “DCNR and the D & L have advised the borough to apply for a grant amendment and the funds needed for the trail, the retaining wall and the rest of the work on the east side of the pedestrian bridge. Thus far, no local funds have been expended for these improvements.”
Several Jim Thorpe council members expressed frustration on Thursday, however, over what they termed a perception in the community that they were holding up the permanent opening of the bridge.
“I heard those overtones as well and this has nothing to do with us,” Councilman Jay Miller said. “In fact, I don’t think we should be the ones explaining in a letter to DCNR why someone else didn’t have their ducks in a row from the start.”
Garofalo said the trail connector was always a part of the larger Mansion House Bridge project.
“Unfortunately, when the estimate for the complete Mansion House Bridge and Trail project came in, it was higher than the amount of funds available through PennDOT’s Transportation Alternatives Program,” she said.
“At that point, the trail connector (designed to bypass the water treatment plant and connect the bridge to the Lehigh Canal Towpath/ D & L Trail) was separated. The borough agreed to sponsor this smaller trail connector project. Even with the improvements currently underway at the borough’s water treatment plant, estimates for the trail connector were consistent with the engineered project design. “
Earlier in Thursday’s meeting, Jim Thorpe resident Bill Malatak questioned whether the borough had spent “even a dime” on getting the grants for the bridge.
“I’m wondering if we can look into getting some of that administrative cost back,” council President Greg Strubinger said. “There has been a lot of time involved on our end.”
The Mansion House Bridge Project was funded by a $4.1 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation
“When you take a look at this, in the end, over $4 million spent when we have so much deteriorating infrastructure and needs in our state,” Strubinger said. “You do have to wonder where the priorities are.”
The bridge is a 200-foot through truss bridge built in Alabama with American steel.
When it’s complete, the bridge will create a 57-mile continuous stretch from Glen Summit, Luzerne County to Cementon, Lehigh County.
Council tabled the bids on the retaining wall and trail connection work Thursday for up to the 120-day period it is allowed until the more than half-million dollars in additional grant funding is secured.
“The Mansion House Bridge will remain closed until further notice because the trail connector on the east side of the Lehigh River is incomplete,” Garofalo said. “When we have an accurate timeline for its completion we’ll let folks know. Until then we encourage visitors and trail users to sign up for updates at http://delawareandlehigh.org/contact-us. Needless to say, this is a very complex project.”