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Latrobe bids for old bridge for trail on Loyalhanna Creek

| Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, 10:30 p.m.
The 205-foot Lynn Avenue steel bridge in Bethlehem, built in 1928, could be relocated to Latrobe and span the Loyalhanna Creek at Unity Street for a trail project to connect downtown Latrobe and St. Vincent College.
The 205-foot Lynn Avenue steel bridge in Bethlehem, built in 1928, could be relocated to Latrobe and span the Loyalhanna Creek at Unity Street for a trail project to connect downtown Latrobe and St. Vincent College.

After carrying thousands of drivers over railroad tracks in Northampton County, a historic bridge may be moved 250 miles to be used for walkers and bikers in Latrobe.

City officials are in the preliminary stages of applying with the state Department of Transportation to have the bridge moved this spring through a federal program.

“They'll bring in the bridge, they'll set it up here,” City Manager Wayne Jones told council at its meeting Tuesday night.

The 205-foot steel bridge was built in 1928 to carry Lynn Avenue in Bethlehem over railroad tracks, said Rich Kirkpatrick, PennDOT spokesman. It was built across the street from the Bethlehem Steel plant when business was booming post-World War I.

The design — a variation of what is known as a Parker truss with a single-span camelback — and age are what makes the bridge historic, Kirkpatrick said.

If chosen to be moved to Latrobe, the bridge could span the Loyalhanna Creek at Unity Street to carry a bike trail from St. Vincent College into Legion-Keener Park, Jones said.

Construction of the trail, planned to be 1.9 miles long and 12 feet wide, was started in April off Devereaux Drive in Unity.

Trail committee member Linda McKenna Boxx, a Latrobe resident who is president of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, said reusing the old bridge is a great idea, but it might take some time and logistical work to complete.

“It's a great opportunity, a great idea, but I think it has to be thought through very carefully,” she said.

The committee is working to build a 33-foot bridge over Monastery Run to carry the trail along Monastery Road and into town, but a project over the Loyalhanna could require the Army Corps of Engineers because it is in a flood-control zone, Boxx said.

“A bridge over the Loyalhanna is a bit beyond our capacity, so I'm glad the city is leading the charge on this,” she said.

The project could include grant funding from the Federal Highway Administration through PennDOT for 80 percent of the costs, if the city would match the remaining 20 percent, Jones said.

Kirkpatrick said the bridge was deemed structurally deficient and closed in July before a replacement structure is built next year.

“Latrobe is just at the beginning of the process” to vie for the bridge, he said.

Through the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act, PennDOT markets about 10 to 12 bridges to be moved every year for the FHA but are “seldom successful in selling a bridge,” Kirkpatrick said. The Lynn Avenue Bridge has been listed for sale for five years, with no serious interest except Latrobe.

As it stands, the Lynn Avenue Bridge was given a sufficiency rating of 11 on a scale of 1 to 100, Kirkpatrick said. The bridge would require extensive rehabilitation before it could be used as a bicycle and pedestrian bridge, PennDOT spokeswoman Jan Huzvar said.

Costs associated with disassembling, fixing and reassembling the bridge are much higher than the cost of trucking the bridge to a new location, so it's likely it could easily travel to Latrobe, Kirkpatrick said.

“Transportation costs are relatively minor; in most cases, the bridges are disassembled to small pieces that fit on flat-bed trucks,” he said.

For now, the St. Vincent trail stretches 1,100 feet on the former Unity branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad as officials wait for acquisition of another quarter-mile stretch from Morgan Advanced Materials, Boxx said.

“They are considering it, but we haven't gotten word back from them yet,” she said.

A 2012 study estimated as many as 100 people per day could use the trail.

Mayor Rosie Wolford said walking trails in Latrobe are heavily used, including the 2.2-mile Lincoln Avenue Trail between Routes 981 and 982, portions of which are still under construction.

“If anybody doesn't think this whole rails-to-trails thing is a big deal, you should have been in town when they were laying the asphalt on the Lincoln Trail and literally people were practically walking behind them,” she said at Tuesday's meeting.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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