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Indian Head Road community continues to suffer from bridge closure

| Tuesday, July 31, 2012, 11:23 p.m.

The closing of the bridge that connects Route 711 to Indian Head Road has had dire consequences for the survival of a community, including the closing of the Indian Head Snack Bar, the loss of 60 percent of Jim Hall's business at his service station along Route 711 and the cutback in hours of some workers at Resh's market, residents claim.

There has been at least a year's worth of planning and designing on the bridge replacement with the specific goal of keeping traffic flowing in and out of Indian Head while the project was under way.

PennDOT officials had come up with the option to work on one lane of the bridge while traffic took turns, with the help of a temporary traffic light, to utilize the other lane of the bridge -- until safety concerns arose concerning the portion of the bridge the traffic was to use.

At a special public meeting Tuesday afternoon, PennDOT officials told concerned residents and business owners they hope to soon get the bridge open again to regular traffic.

Joe Szczur, District 12 executive with PennDOT, said they are working toward having the existing side of the bridge shored up and opened to traffic 6 tons or less by 8 a.m. Aug. 11.

"We had to make an abrupt decision at that time to close the bridge," Szczur said. "We know this is a major inconvenience for the community and we're trying everything we can to get this rectified. We have been trying feverishly to put a plan in place to stabilize the bridge."

In fact, work began Monday to construct temporary supports on either side of the existing pier.

Bill Kovach, assistant executive for District 12, said their goal since the bridge was closed, was to get the single lane opened again as quickly as possible to accommodate the community.

"We found the only way we could get the old section open again was to place temporary supports beside the existing pier, but along with that are a few things that are still somewhat undesirable," he said.

One of the issues is, that while the bridge should be opened by Aug. 11 to most traffic, it won't be able to accommodate any traffic over 6 tons, which includes the large fire trucks and school buses.

"Most cars, trucks and ambulances should be able to use the bridge, but not the fire trucks or other big trucks," Kovach said.

This would still require any delivery trucks and regular-sized school buses to use the detour until the reconstruction of the demolished side of the bridge is complete.

Also, if there would happen to be any flash flood issues where the river goes over the barriers and temporary support system, the bridge would again have to be closed until the water receded and the support system inspected for safety.

Kerry Witt, president of the Saltlick Township Volunteer Fire Department, asked if installing a temporary bridge was possible.

Kovach said District 12 does not own a temporary bridge and the ones they know of are made with steel from overseas, which doesn't meet safety requirements.

"I believe the way we're doing this is a better solution," he said.

"At the very beginning of all this, we expressed our concerns about how critical it was to this community that the bridge remain open," Witt said. "This is hitting this community very hard. We just can't emphasize enough how important it is that the bridge be open as soon as possible."

He added that everyone would be watching the progress.

"We're hoping that PennDOT has opened the flood gates to keep the contractor working as long or as much as possible," Witt said.

Szczur said he has informed the contractor to work around the clock as much as needed to get the temporary lane open by Aug. 11 and the first half of the new bridge open by Oct. 31.

Jim Hall, who owns Hall's Service Station on the Route 711 side of the bridge, said he has been in business for 41 years and has never experienced the loss of business -- nearly 60 percent -- as he has experienced through this bridge closure.

"There's never been anything like this," Hall said. "Most of my customer base is from Indian Head, who stop on their way to and from work, or customers from the Clinton area on their way to Indian Head.

"Now that the bridge is closed, those from Indian Head get gas in Normalville or in Champion where the detour takes them and those from Clinton can't cross the bridge to get into Indian Head, so they have no reason to come this way."

State Sen. Richard Kasunic asked if there was any way PennDOT could take another look at bringing in a temporary bridge.

"I'm not an engineer and I'm not telling you how to do your job, but I'm asking you to reconsider and take another look and see if it's at all possible," he said.

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