Harmar wary of bridge accord
By Jodi Weigand
Published: Saturday, July 27, 2013, 12:56 a.m.
When the new Hulton Bridge is completed in 2015, Harmar and Oakmont are expected to take on the costs and responsibility of maintaining everything from the highway lights to the sidewalks and storm drains.
Harmar officials want to negotiate with PennDOT on the proposed maintenance and ownership agreement.
Oakmont signed the agreement this month.
The 1,500-foot span connects the two communities over the Allegheny River between Hulton Road in Oakmont and Freeport Road in Harmar.
The $80 million replacement project is the single biggest project in the PennDOT district that includes Allegheny County in about a decade.
The Harmar supervisors said they are wary of the possible costs of maintenance.
“It's a lot of dollars,” said township Supervisor Michael Hillery. “I don't think it would be responsible for us to agree to move forward knowing the expense for when these (repairs) come due.”
He pointed out it would cost the township between $200 and $300 per bulb to replace the lamps in the 12 highway lights on the township's side of the bridge, according to estimates provided by Hulton Bridge project manager Robert Collins. The bulbs need to be replaced about every three years.
Redoing a handicapped-accessible curb could cost $100,000, according to the township's engineer.
An Oakmont official said the borough is worried about the legacy costs and objected to required ownership of a retaining wall near the Oakmont Harbor Condominiums.
Ultimately, borough administration decided it had very little room to negotiate and recommended approval.
Two Oakmont Council members who returned calls seeking comment said they didn't know enough about the agreement to discuss it.
PennDOT officials said maintenance and ownership agreements with local municipalities are standard practice for a large-scale project like the Hulton Bridge.
Each agreement cites the State Highway Law, which allows for such maintenance agreements.
A section also relieves the state of the responsibility of maintain curbing and sidewalks, and performing street cleaning and snow removal.
“The agreements tighten everything up and spell it out clearly so they know what they're responsible for,” said Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, assistant district executive for design for PennDOT District 11, which includes Allegheny County.
She noted there are agreements in place for several Pittsburgh developments, including Route 28, Boulevard of the Allies and the West End Circle.
Moon-Sirianni said PennDOT recognizes the financial burden, but at the same time the state agency, with the help of federal grant money, is taking on the cost of a multi-million-dollar bridge replacement.
“If we didn't come in and replace it and light poles started falling down, (the municipalities) would have to replace that,” she said. “Every municipality has the same responsibility.”
Freeport's OK with plan
A PennDOT spokeswoman for Westmoreland County projects said no formal maintenance agreement exists for the soon-to-be-completed Freeport Bridge, for which it is responsible.
However Freeport Borough, on the other side of the bridge, traditionally has cleared sidewalks; maintained walkways, street lights and signals; and covered electricity costs, Freeport Council President Don Rehner said.
Once the new Buffalo Creek bridge in Laneville and the main span are completed this fall, Freeport will maintain one traffic signal and eight street lights, he said.
“The main reason we were anxious to get them and are willing to pay for them is because there's going to be a sidewalk from the Laneville section up to the bridge,” he said. “We will continue to plow the sidewalk on the new Laneville bridge.”
The main Freeport Bridge crosses into Allegheny Township. PennDOT has not approached the township about maintenance, said Township Manager Gregory Primm.
There are no street lights on the township's side of the bridge. It's unclear whether the township would be required to clear snow from the bike and pedestrian path that will connect the Butler-Freeport Community Trail and the Rachel Carson Trail on the Freeport side of the bridge to the Wynn and Clara Tredway River Trail and Baker Trail in Westmoreland County.
Harmar Township Solicitor Charles Means said he is skeptical of PennDOT's claims that municipalities are required by law to take over maintenance of a state-owned bridge.
“It's not my experience that a township is responsible for curb ramps that don't give access to a township street,” he said.
Freeport Road is a state road.
Hillery said the township has plenty of time to resolve the issue.
“The bridge (completion) is still a long way off,” he said. “We want to know where we stand and what our options are.”
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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