Bridges found deficient
Almost half of Northampton County's 115 bridges have maintenance work that will need to be done to meet Penn DOT requirements.
The engineering firm of Bethlehem-based Borton Lawson highlighted the 53 county-owned bridges that need to be replaced, removed or rehabilitated for safety reasons at an Aug. 15 Northampton County Finance Committee meeting. The condition of the county's bridges receive between a C-minus to a B-plus grade as compared with the state's bridges, which rated a C when evaluated for safety.
Carl McGloughlin, Borton Lawson's transportation project manager, proposed a three-year $20 million bridge improvement program to Finance Committee members. Because 17 of the bridges, which have an average age of 60 years, are already on PennDOT's priority maintenance list, McGloughlin indicated that to complete the bridge repairs in three years work should begin in the fall. Priority maintenance bridges require immediate attention. If approved, the bridge project would take these bridges off the priority maintenance list.
A bridge's lifespan is about 75 years; the county has 31 bridges between 75 to 100 years old; 49 are between 10 and 50 years old.
For a cost of $15.8 million, 21 bridges, or 18 percent, would be replaced. Identified to be replaced are seven bridges classified as functionally obsolete (FO), 10 bridges described as structurally deficient (SD), plus an additional four bridges. An FO designation means the bridge features were not designed for today's traffic and heavier vehicles. A SD designation indicates deterioration of major components such as deck, beams or substructure.
Thomas Kohler, the county's bridge division superintendent, said that many of the county's bridges were constructed as part of Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects and not intended to be here 100 years.
For $3.8 million, 32 bridges would be rehabilitated and placed on a preventative maintenance schedule.
When asked about additional costs to the bridge improvement project proposal, Kohler said that in his experience PennDOT's specifications for bridge work generally come in under budget. A 2009 bridge improvement bond replaced three bridges with money left over. The 2012 $20 million bridge work would also need to be financed by a bond.
Steve DeSalva, the county's director of public works, told committee members that his department has not been able to keep up with the bridge maintenance work due to lack of money.
"We could be closing some bridges; we need to take action," he added.
The Finance Committee's next meeting is 4 p.m., Sept. 19 on the third floor of Northampton County Courthouse, 669 Washington St., Easton.