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Armstrong drivers cross without bridge

| Saturday, Oct. 13, 2007

While PennDOT has many bridges in need of replacement, there's one in Armstrong County the state has ignored for 35 years.

PennDOT has no plans to replace it.

Those who use Stitts Run Road in Parks have gotten used to the small bridge over Carnahan Run being out.

But that doesn't mean they take the seven-mile detour to get to the other side.

Instead, they drive off the road and ford the stream.

David Frickanisce, chairman of the Parks Township Planning Commission, said that in the early 1990s township police had to wade through the flooded creek to get to a shooting victim.

"Residents in Parks have had a bridge out since 1972," Frickanisce said. "That's right -- a bridge was washed out during Hurricane Agnes, and PennDOT has yet to replace it."

The battered bridge, once barricaded by the state and now posted as closed, splits Stitts Run Road in half. Township officials have begun to lose hope the bridge will ever be replaced. The state-owned road averages about 650 motorists daily.

"From what I understand, they (PennDOT) will replace the bridge, but are putting the condition on it that we take over the road," said supervisors Chairman Paul Durincik. "The state tarred and chipped the road, but the condition is not good because it washes out."

PennDOT sponsors a Turn Back Program in which the state allows functional local roads to be turned over to the municipality for maintenance, spokesman Mark Hillwig said. The municipality will then receive a yearly stipend from the state of $4,000.

PennDOT district bridge engineer Jim Andrews said there is no record of the bridge because the district did not start inspecting bridges until the late 1970s.

Stitts Run Road is a steep hill riddled with holes. It has no guardrails to prevent motorists from plunging into a ravine.

Motorists have beaten down a path about 50 feet to the left of the former bridge that leads to the other end of the creek. Signs are posted that the "Bridge Is Out."

"Motorists drive off the road and we know that," Hillwig said. "We don't advise it, but at this point that is where it stands."

Frickanisce said the area has become polluted over the years, with oil and gasoline being washed downstream, and an illegal trash dump.

"If it wasn't for the efforts of the neighbors near where the bridge is out, the garbage piles would be overwhelming," he said.

"With the bridge being out, there is more of a place to go and party, do drugs and dump garbage because nobody is coming by," said Marlene Galiszewski, who lives near Carnahan Run.

DEP spokeswoman Helen Humphreys said the littering problem has to be handled by local police. However, laws against illegal dumping by landscapers and contractors are enforced by the state.

The Parks Township police could not be reached for comment.

Stitts Run Road serves as a shortcut for motorists to go from Airport Road off Route 66 to Dime Road. The detour around Stitts Run Road is seven miles.

"It is a safety issue," Durincik said. "There is a nursing home on Garvers Ferry Road."

Andrews said that in order for the township to have the bridge replaced it has to compete with other projects in Armstrong County.

"Given the type of route it is and low-traffic volume, it probably was never put on the priority list," he said.

"We're little, we're rural, we don't have a high-powered elected official that lives here, nobody cares,"

Frickanisce said.

"How long will we continue to be overlooked -- having pollution infest our waterways and being inconvenienced by an agency that's willing to hold us hostage, but not replace the bridge that should have been there 35 years ago."

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