Unity theme at dedication of new bridge between Monessen, North Charleroi
By Chris Buckley
Published: Monday, July 1, 2013, 12:11 a.m.
When the rehabilitated Charleroi-Monessen Bridge was reopened in 1986, North Charleroi officials threatened to boycott the ceremony unless PennDOT renamed the span.
The state didn't and North Charleroi leaders reluctantly participated.
That dissension was history — as was the deck of the old bridge and even the name — when ceremonies were held Saturday marking the reopening of the bridge spanning the Monongahela River between North Charleroi and Monessen.
Fencing on the bridge was painted black and white on the Monessen side and red and black for the Charleroi Area Cougars on the other side.
The ceremonial ribbon cut to mark the opening of the new John K. Tener Memorial Bridge was red, black and white.
After the ceremony, Monessen Mayor Mary Jo Smith hurriedly cut the ribbon into souvenir pieces and handed them out to officials of both communities.
Unity was the theme on a day that included a wedding.
The couple — fittingly the groom a North Charleroi resident and his bride a Monessen native — took the plunge in the center of the bridge in the midst of the ceremonies.
Officiating the wedding of Robecca Novtone and Michael Castner, North Charleroi Mayor Lee Hall said: “As this bridge unites two communities, this (wedding) ceremony joins two lives together.”
Before the ceremony, at the veteran's memorial near the North Charleroi side of the span, unveiling ceremonies were held for a historic marker “Community of Lock Four” and for the original plaque from the former bridge, embedded in stone from a pillar of the former span.
Debbie Brimner of Michael Baker Jr. Inc. in Moon Township laid out and designed the historical signage that was erected at benches along the pedestrian walkway of the bridge. They included information about Tener, the Bridge and Monongahela River navigation. At either end of the bridge were markers denoting the history of Pittsburgh Steel and Lock Four.
About a dozen descendents of Tener attended the ceremony.
“It's great to see the people embrace the history,” said Carol Short Protacio of Woodridge, Va., great-great-niece of Gov. Tener.
“He's our family and they've adopted him.”
The Tener family members drove in from across the country Thursday to attend the ceremonies Saturday. On Friday, they drove about an hour southwest to Bethany College in West Virginia, where the former governor among many Teners attended college.
Barbara Tener Steel Berry of Grand Island, N.Y., said the family members were excited to be on hand. She called Tener “a forward thinker.”
“What he did as governor was to build bridges among people in the communities,” said John E. Tener, of Boston, great-great-nephew of the former governor who is his namesake.
“It is only fitting that you build a bridge and name it for him because he was a bridge builder metaphorically.”
Hundreds crowded onto the bridge, crossing from the North Charleroi side to attend the ceremony.
Monessen officials, led by Smith, crossed the bridge from the Monessen side of the span. North Charleroi leaders, including Mayor Lee Hall, crossed from their side of the span and met in the middle for the ceremony.
Smith credited retired state Sen. J. Stout with acquiring the state funding for the project. Stout was a state senator and a member of the state Transportation Commission when the former Charleroi-Monessen Bridge was closed Feb. 19, 2009, after an inspection revealed deterioration.
PennDOT decided to replace the bridge rather than repair it, and the aged span was imploded July 11, 2011.
Built in 1907, the bridge was rehabilitated shortly after World War II and again in 1986.
The new bridge is named for Tener. As president of the Mercantile Bridge Co., Tener was instrumental in the development of the old span, which opened in 1907.
Construction on the $26.1 million Tener bridge project began in late 2010.
Construction was delayed by utility issues and high water.
“We had some delays, but finally got it built,” Stout said. “We preserved the historical significance of the original Charleroi-Monessen Bridge and the legislature named it for John K. Tener.”
Stout said the bridge units the Valley communities across the “life-giving Monongahela River.”
Stout said he first crossed the bridge in 1949, accompanying his parents from their Bentleyville home to shop in Monessen.
“The original bridge served this area well,” Stout said.
He advocated for the current state legislature to approve a new transportation bill.
“You see your tax dollars in transportation here,” Stout said. “This will last for many, many years, I'm sure.”
Carla Mast, representing Stout's replacement, state Sen. Timothy Solobay, noted the number of deteriorating bridges in state.
“As governor, (Tener) would have said, ‘one down, 4,000 to go,'” Mast said.
“Pennsylvania could use a man like John Tener.”
Reading a letter from state Rep. Peter J. Daley, Ron Lucy called Tener “a true hero for the Mon Valley.
“He is more than deserving of this honor.”
PennDOT District 12 District Executive Joe Szczur said the bridge construction was advanced at “hyper speed,” noting it normally would have only advanced to the bidding process so far, not completion.
“Thank you for a job well done,” Szczur said to representatives of the design and construction firms in attendance.
“Thank you,” one audience member shouted out to the PennDOT leader.
“Thank you for opening this vital artery for Monessen, Charleroi, North Charleroi, Carroll Township and beyond,” state Rep. R. Ted Harhai, D-Monessen, said.
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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