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Closed until further notice: $565K needed to finish work for bridge

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    The new D & L pedestrian bridge remains closed until a retaining wall and trail connection can be added. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS

Published June 19. 2018 12:17PM

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.”

Trail connector

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 Needless to say, this is a very complex project.”

I’ve gotta say, I’m highly impressed by the borough’s premature “pomp & circumstamce” with opening this long spoken-about bridge for their community... only to close it right down again because “oh yeah, we need another half-million dollars” to REALLY call it finished.

Maybe they should stick to tourism and catering to the folks who DON’T live here. It seems like the only thing they know how to handle.
Is it just the picture or is the end of the bridge painted and the rest is all a natural rusty appearance? Maybe they ran out of money for paint?
The whole story regarding this bridge is a complicated mess. A year and a half ago, The Times News online reported on Dec. 23, 2016 that our County Supervisors awarded the contract to build the actual span to Latona Trucking for $2,729,483.20 The Times News further on that date reported that the total cost to finish the project would be 3.2 million dollars. We could assume that the difference between the 2.7 million for the span and the 3.2 million for the project would be the cost to build the on/off ramps.

On May 11th of this year the Times News online mentioned that the county received a grant $403,986.00 to basically construct a trail along the County Parking lot, connecting the bridge with the trailhead at the far end of the parking lot. I believe that project is in the engineering stage. So if you add the $2.7 million for the span to the $403,986.00 that gets you to roughly the 3.1 million dollars that we thought the project was going to cost.

Later on, I think it was around a March 2018 timeframe a D&L Heritage Corridor website blog reported that the east side of the bridge was 17 feet too high so a ramp with a gentle slope would be needed to make the bridge project ADA compliant. This would add to the cost ( an additional $9,000.00) and delay the opening of the bridge (but not the dedication). see also 3/8/18 story by Jarrad Hedes

The article above states that the 4.1 million came from a grant from the state DOT. Yet the boro of Jim Thorpe is going to apply for $565,286.00 in additional funding. This figure is at odds with the quotes to finish the work, $1 million dollars, mentioned in the above article.

The whole point that I'm trying to make is that there hasn't been any real itemized costs published anywhere as far as I can tell. Also, there isn't any meaningful project completion date given either. Regardless of our feelings on the wisdom and usefulness of the bridge project, I think it is about time someone in a position of authority spell out exactly what needs to be done, how much it's really going to cost, where is the money going to come from and when is it going to be finished.

My personal opinion is that the bridge will open sometime after labor day 2019, most likely in December 2019. There is just too much confusion, disorganization and a lack of urgency and/or candor among the interested parties to think it will be this year or even the first half of next year.

I have listed only a few of many details that trickle out from time to time. Allow me to say that I use the trail and will use the bridge when it is finally opened. However the whole thing is an outrage from start to finish. The gap between the Lehigh Canal Trail and the D&L Trailhead at the far side of the county parking lot is less than a mile. When it is all said an done the actual cost will be more than what is being reported, probably a lot more. And it will most certainly will not be completed this year.

Two useful quotes:

"The bridge remains closed to the public after the (dedication ) ceremony (6/11/18) as crews are finishing work on parts of the trail nearby. The whole project is expected to be complete in six months" story by Carmella Mataloni 6/12/18

"With the closing of the gap in Jim Thorpe and with the eventual completion of the trail within our sights, we are anticipation the D&L Trail could approach $50 million (tourist dollars spent?) per year" Leslie S. Richards PA DOT Secretary as reported April 10, 2017 Morning Call Staff Article.

Total incompetence. Poor project management. Poor leadership. Lack of oversight. Absence of commonsense.

I’ve had it with DCNR. Every time I see something involving DCNR it’s a snafu. Luckily they don’t seem to do much anymore.

Lawmakers and Gov. Wolf, it is time to have a review of this agency and find out how and why they got off track and get the ship righted. They turned into an embarrassing laughing stock over the last few years. The new PennDOT.
This bridge to the sewer plant should bring many to Jim Thorpe. All this, for only 4.1 Million. Hey, imagine how proud Ed Norton would be. Ride On.
Give me a shovel, and for $500,000 I'll do that work for free.............................................
Stroud Township in Monroe Co. recently completed a 120-foot pedestrian bridge of a very similar spec for around $400k. Granted this is a shorter span and less abutment walls, but even double or triple the cost... no where close to $4 million. Something is wrong with this picture.

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