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Large crowd previews plans for bridge in Derry

Jeff Himler
| Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

PennDOT intends to keep two-way traffic flowing along the Route 217 railroad bridge in Derry during construction of a new bridge, tentatively set to begin in 2015.

That news pleased more than 120 citizens who attended a meeting the state held in the borough Wednesday to provide an update on the project, estimated to cost between $12 million to $15 million.

Some residents expressed concern about pedestrian access to the bridge, which serves as the only authorized route across the Norfolk Southern Corp. tracks that divide the borough.

Several borough officials said they are pleased traffic will not be interrupted on Route 217 during construction.

Plans call to award bids in December 2014, with construction to begin the following spring. During work in 2016, traffic would switch to the new bridge to allow for demolition of the structurally deficient bridge that is being replaced.

“By building a separate bridge and keeping the old bridge open it's going to definitely keep Derry going,” said Mayor David Bolen. “This bridge is the only way you can get from north to south, other than going to Burd's Crossing (a rail crossing) or Millwood” bridge, both in Derry Township.

“You would have had an absolute ghost town if in fact that bridge had been closed down for two years, plus the traffic nightmares,” said council President Randy McCreary. “We wouldn't have emergency services on both sides of the bridge without that bridge. The delays would have been unbelievable.”

PennDOT's plans call for improved access from the new bridge to the former Porcelain Park, an abandoned industrial site along West Third Street that is being reclaimed by the Redevelopment Authority of Westmoreland County.

That section of West Third will be raised about 10 feet to intersect with Route 217, which will be lowered about 4 feet from the existing bridge level.

McCreary said the reconfigured Third Street will make the property more attractive for development. “They're going to have an open access right off Third Street, plus a controlled intersection to get up and down,” he said.

According to PennDOT's preferred plan, the new bridge will follow a new path, about 100 feet west of the current span. Three residential properties will be displaced at the north end of the bridge, where the highway curves from Leo Street onto West Owens Avenue. In total, some portion of 19 properties will need to be acquired, planners said.

Jim Cowan, a former councilman, wondered whether the new bridge could handle traffic that would result if a company with a large number of employees came to the Porcelain Park site.

Rachel Duda, assistant district executive for design with PennDOT District 12-0, noted the bridge design allows for left-turn lanes at the Third Street intersection. If traffic at the site eventually exceeds that design, the redevelopment authority would be expected to assist with any needed road improvements, she said.

Mitch Raney, president of the Derry Area Revitalization Corp., expressed disappointment that deteriorated concrete stairs, leading from the bridge to the business district, would not be replaced.

Duda said stairs would require an elaborate serious of switchback ramps to comply with modern standards for handicapped access. She said the new bridge would include wider sidewalks, with a safety barrier more than 3 feet high separating pedestrians from the roadway.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or

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