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Preliminary design for Route 217 bridge revealed

Date: 1/10/2013

By Marie McCandless

Latrobe Bulletin News Editor


January 10, 2013

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials and engineers Wednesday presented a preliminary design for the Route 217 bridge replacement in Derry Borough.

The public plans display at AV Germano Hall attracted more than 125 people curious to see how the new bridge will be aligned.

The design calls for the existing bridge to remain open and vehicular and pedestrian access maintained during construction of an adjacent structure that would angle to the west near Brown Way (behind the laundromat), then continue alongside the existing bridge.

The bridge would have a T-intersection with turn lane at West Third Street to allow access to and from the former Westinghouse/ICI/Porcelain Park property now owned by the Redevelopment Authority of Westmoreland County (RAWC).

To accomplish that connection, the area between Second and Third streets would be filled and West Third Street raised. East Third Street near Derry Presbyterian Church would end in a cul-de-sac with a retaining wall.

That would result in an actual bridge span much shorter than the existing one since it would be spanning only the Norfolk Southern Railroad mainline, and not the street and properties adjacent to Third Street.

RAWC Executive Director April Kopas said the design will add to the marketability of the Porcelain Park site while enhancing safety.

“From a project management point of view it makes our job easier,” she said.  With highway and rail access to the site, “Now we’re talking infrastructure.”

Rich Thomas, manager of Derry Borough Municipal Authority, said the project will not affect water feeds on Second and Third streets.

However, it will cut sewer access to the county-owned property.

One solution may be to lay new sewer line before Third Street is filled, which Thomas estimated would save about $54,000 over the cost of boring a line.

Vince Borrelli, project manager for Michael Baker Corp. engineering firm, explained that the public meeting is required by the National Historic Preservation Act. 

Borrelli told the audience, “We want to hear your ideas and get your input. We welcome your comments” and comment forms were provided.

The current bridge carrying the highway over the Norfolk Southern Railroad mainline is structurally deficient, Borrelli said. In addition, the new design’s purposes are to maintain connectivity for commerce, communities and services; support economic planning initiatives, and maintain pedestrian access.

Over the course of several meetings with local officials, “We’ve made a lot of changes to accommodate the needs of the community and businesses,” Borrelli said. “I’m pleased with the progress of the project.”

Sean P. Sepe, PE, PennDOT District 12 project manager, said the final connection of the old and new approaches is a challenge that still is being worked on. He suggested a flag person or temporary traffic signal, or combination, may be utilized during that process so that the connection will result in minimal traffic disruption.

The possibility of entirely closing the existing bridge during construction was a main concern of Derry officials, business owners and residents, and resulted in the plan shown Wednesday.

Borough council member Jim Byers said, “It (the preliminary design) solves the problem of us being afraid of losing our businesses.”

Mayor David Bolen said of the design, “If it stays as is I will be perfectly happy.” 

Noting that if the existing bridge were closed, detours would have taken motorists to Millwood or Burd’s Crossing.

“The bridge at Millwood is not in very good condition,” Bolen noted. The one-lane bridge has limited sight distance. Using Burd’s Crossing would have taken traffic completely away from the downtown Derry businesses.

Bolen said PennDOT has agreed to meet with emergency management officials to discuss access for emergency vehicles during construction, and commented, “With PennDOT building a new bridge we’re definitely keeping Derry open. With the current bridge being the only access north-south, going over Burd’s Crossing or Millwood” was not acceptable.

As shown in the preliminary design, the new structure would have two, 11-foot traffic lanes, a 4-foot shoulder on each side, concrete barriers on each side and 6-foot sidewalks on each side. There would be a pedestrian railing and safety fence on the part of the span over the tracks. 

Sepe said some residents expressed the wish to include a bike lane on the new bridge.

“We’re looking at a bike lane,” he said.

Such a lane would be integral to Derry Area Revitalization Corp.’s (DARCee) long-range plans for a hiking/biking trail network, noted John Turack, community and economic development educator for Penn State Extension and interim executive director for Smart Growth. Turack has been consulting with DARCee on developing those trail plans.

The bridge project would relocate three residential properties on the northwest side of the existing bridge, and there would be partial takings from about 19 properties for the construction and temporary construction easements.

The acquisition process will not begin until PennDOT approves the right-of-way plan. Liberty Hill, PE, PennDOT District 12 plans engineer, said right-of-way acquisition will take about 18 months.

At the southern end of the new bridge, the traffic signal will be upgraded, and handicapped ramps at the four corners will be installed.

“The railroad is OK with the plan,” Borrelli related, since the new bridge will have 23-foot vertical clearance -- tall enough for the double-stack trains that routinely travel the main line.

The schedule calls for bid opening in December 2014 with construction beginning the following spring. In 2016, the old bridge would be demolished, “a pretty significant project in itself,” Borrelli pointed out.

The approximate cost of the project is $12 to $15 million, but there is no detailed estimate yet, said Hill.

The design phases are 100-percent paid by state funds and the construction phase, 100-percent federal funds.

PennDOT representatives expressed surprise at the turnout for the plans display, but borough resident Richard Rupert said the project “is very important to the entire community in all aspects.”

State Rep. Joseph Petrarca, who has championed the bridge replacement project for well over a decade, was happy to see plans for the bridge. He said, “At different points I wondered if it would ever happen.”

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