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Freeport Bridge in need of 'a real fix'

| Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2006

Local officials met with state Rep. Jeff Pyle and the chairman of the House Transportation Committee in an attempt to get a permanent fix for the Freeport Bridge. That will be difficult, because the span isn't on any construction project lists.

Transportation Committee Chairman Richard Geist, R-Altoona, said municipalities need to work with their state representatives to move the Freeport Bridge up the Southwest Pennsylvania Commission's Transportation Improvement Project -- TIP -- list.

Freeport Bridge repairs have appeared on and vanished from the TIP list several times in the 44 years since the bridge was first built.

"We can't go after a project that's not listed," Geist said.

A 3-ton weight restriction was placed on the bridge in August after an inspection showed the bridge was badly deteriorated.

While stopgap, emergency repairs are under way, any vehicles over 6,000 pounds -- including ambulances, fire trucks and school buses -- must either take a nearly 20-mile detour or use the reconfigured Laneville Bridge nearby.

The one-way Laneville Bridge has been temporarily changed to handle two-lane traffic to allow access through Freeport.

Repairs of the portion of the Freeport Bridge that crosses Buffalo Creek are on schedule to be finished by the end of this month, according to PennDOT spokesman Jay Ofsanik.

"By the end of September, the weight limit will be lifted off the Buffalo Creek bridge," Ofsanik said. "The remainder of the bridge should be done by Dec. 1."

Monday's meeting was a step toward getting a permanent solution for the bridge, officials said.

"This was an opportunity to have the state rep and the chairman to start us in a direction to get money for refurbishing or getting a new bridge," said Freeport Mayor Robert Ravotti.

Pyle, R-Ford City, said he supports the project and will serve as a coordinator between the state and local levels to move the project along.

"We want a real fix," Pyle said. "Since it was erected in 1962, there has been virtually no money invested in it. It's been neglected. It's more than deserving."

"The problem lies with Harrisburg and its inability to fund projects," Geist said. "Twenty-five percent of the bridges in the state are deficient."

"Highways are not Republican or Democrat," Geist said.

"There are things that don't come easy," he said. "It's the part of politics you never see."

Also at the meeting were Allegheny Township and Freeport Borough officials, who drove to a road beneath the bridge to give Geist a better look at the bridge's condition.

Allegheny Township Supervisor Kathy Starr said since the 1990s, wooden beams have been used to help support a portion of the bridge.

Freeport Councilman James Swartz Jr. said officials met in 1987 with PennDOT, engineers and utility companies in preparation for a construction start the following year.

Work never began, however, and the money was reallocated elsewhere.

"It was $20 million to fix," Swartz said. "Now it's $50 million to $60 million."

Councilman James Seagriff Jr. said $9.6 million was reserved on the state transportation improvement project list in 1996, but the money was removed.

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