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Options for Donora, Webster bridge laid out

| Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010

The state is expected to decide the fate of the Donora-Webster Bridge by spring.

But Joe Szczur, district executive for PennDOT District 12, hinted at the logical choice Wednesday, questioning whether it was prudent to spend $15 million to $20 million to rehabilitate the span when replacing it.

The state laid out options for the four-span structure at an open house last night at the Donora Borough Building.

The bridge was closed in July 2009 after a routine inspection and structural analysis uncovered deterioration of several main support beams that were severe enough to make it necessary to close. It had previously been inspected in 2008.

Typically, PennDOT inspects every state-owned bridge once every two years. However, the Donora-Webster Bridge was inspected once a year because officials were monitoring its condition. It had a three-ton weight limit since reopening in 1986.

Consulting firm Michael J. Baker Jr. is reviewing options for the closed span while the state is meeting with historic officials.

The state has funding to advance the project through the Section 106 process only.

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires federal agencies to take into account the effects that their federally funded activities and programs have on significant historic properties. "Significant historic properties" are those properties that are included in, or eligible for, the National Register of Historic Places.

The Donora-Webster Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The state began consultations with officials from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in September.

They concluded that if one of the trusses of the more than 100-year-old bridge were to fail, it could have caused "catastrophic bridge failure." Surveys showed that the bridge's traffic volume has been cut by 75 percent since the 1970s and is now used predominantly for local traffic.

The state has considered nine alternatives, although doing nothing is not a viable choice, project manager Gary Barber said.

Options range from rehabilitating the bridge using modern or historically accurate materials at a cost of between $15.15 million and $21.82 million; rehabilitating the river trusses and replacing the rest of the bridge at a cost $22.2 million; replacing the bridge at a cost of $25 million; or removing the bridge at a cost of only $2.5 million.

Other options already dismissed called for preserving the bridge by an independent organization; rehabilitating only the sidewalk for pedestrian use at a cost of $1.4 million; and building a new bridge adjacent to the old span at a cost of $23.5 million.

The state is still gathering information, and Sczcur said no money has been identified for the project.

He said PennDOT, nevertheless, is moving ahead with pre-construction work. The bridge, he said, should have been addressed years ago.

Dr. Charles Stacey, a member of the Donora Historical Society, said the organization favors whatever alternative would enable the span to reopen as soon as possible. He said that would probably mean rehabilitation. He said the society does not oppose replacing the span but questions the impact to Donora of having it closed longer.

Szczur promised the issue would be addressed.

"It would have been easy for us to close the bridge and walk away, but we weren't going to do that," he said.

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