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Donora-Webster bridge slated for removal

| Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012

PennDOT plans to demolish, but not rebuild, the bridge that spans the Monongahela River between Donora and Webster.

The span was closed in July 2009 because a routine inspection and structural analysis revealed that several main support beams had deteriorated.

The decision was widely dismissed by a crowd of 140 that learned of the decision for the first time on Wednesday night during a public meeting in the Donora Municipal Building.

PennDOT District 12 Executive Joe Szczur denied that the decision was shrouded in secrecy prior to the meeting and district bridge engineer Don Herbert said the agency chose the public session to announce its decision.

But state Rep. Peter J. Daley, D-California, said he learned of the decision late Tuesday. A meeting to update public officials was held just before the public session yesterday.

"I thought they were being secretive," Daley said of PennDOT. "I thought it was something the public should have known from the very beginning. I think they wanted to keep the crowd down."

Displeased with the announcement, Daley told the crowd his office will send a letter today to transportation Secretary Barry J. Schoch seeking a moratorium on the decision to raze the bridge. Daley said he hopes to gather a consortium of elected officials o examine alternative sources to fund replacement of the bridge.

About 140 residents from Donora and surrounding communities attended the meeting.

Replacing the bridge would cost $25.5 million, Szczur said. In addition, it would cost as much as $10 million for engineering, utility relocation and right of way.

In contrast, it would cost roughly $3.25 million to tear down the aging span. PennDOT will inspect the bridge again within months to determine if the deck of the bridge should be removed this year because of concerns about its condition.

The decision, Szczur said, was based on diminishing traffic over the bridge and the availability of other spans within a few miles. For Webster residents, use of the Donora-Monessen Bridge to the south involves a four-mile detour. the Monongahela Bridge to the north is an eight-mile detour round trip.

At one time, the bridge was used by more than 10,000 vehicles a day and was considered a regional bridge. Less than a third that number crossed it daily at the time it was closed.

Typically, PennDOT inspects every state-owned bridge every other year. However, the Donora-Webster span was inspected yearly because officials were monitoring its condition. It had a 3-ton weight limit beginning in 1986, when it was reopened after rehabilitation work. Szczur said the bridge remains off limits to even pedestrians.

"We didn't take this decision lightly," Szczur said. "We looked at a lot of factors. We are often looked at as outsiders.

"But we considered how we'd feel if we had a closed bridge in our back yard."

But the residents in attendance disagreed.

"We feel you don't care about us," said Mary Doty of Fellsburg. "A lot of us have been here a number of years. We're the foundation of the community. This is our home."

Szczur said the state will review the conditions of routes 88, 136 and 837 in the area to see if improvements need to be made to handle added traffic. PennDOT will examine ways to stabilize a hillside overlooking Route 906 in Rostraver, which has experienced rock slides. Szczur invited Donora Mayor John Lignelli to ride with state officials when they review the surrounding infrastructure. Lignelli questioned the angle of the turn trucks have to make on the access road to gain access to the industrial park.

"You're saying it's not about money, but obviously it's about money," said Annie Schempp of Donora.

Schempp suggested the state use the money it will spend on infrastructure improvements around the bridge to replace the span. But Rachel Duda, assistant district executive of design, said the cost of those improvements will be far less than the cost of building a new bridge.

Donora Councilwoman Marie Trozzo said if the bridge is removed, the state needs to build access to the Donora Industrial Park from the north. She said officials are negotiating with a company that would rely on heavy truck traffic to move into the park. An access road connects the park with the Donora-Monessen Bridge to the south of the community.

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