Photos and Story by Rick Hiduk
More than 50 local residents (top) gathered on Pratts Mill Road just east of Canton on Thursday morning. They represented another 100 people they say want the concrete and steel span that crossed Towanda Creek there from 1910 until a about three weeks ago replaced as soon as possible. They were met by the Bradford County Commissioners and Bradford County Planner Matt Williams.
Pratts Mill Bridge (above) is just the most recent calamity when it comes to the 53 bridges owned by Bradford County. Just as officials and contractors seemed to be catching up on damage done to spans during and since the 2011 flood, the collapse of the bridge in Canton Township demonstrates just how vulnerable the county is to bridge failures and also how difficult it is to replace them.
Persistent rains had softened the ground along Towanda Creek and, after a quick two-inch soaker leading into Easter weekend, the bridge floor reportedly dropped six to eight inches. Authorities immediately closed the structure to all traffic, and the bridge collapsed completely a few days later after another heavy rainfall. Residents expressed their gratitude that nobody was on the bridge when it fell.
During a public meeting earlier in the day, the commissioners announced the contracting of Dawood Engineering (Read here: http://www.endlessmtnlifestyles.com/?p=7430) for construction services on county bridges through April 2022. Unfortunately, securing qualified engineers doesn’t necessarily build a bridge.
Williams explained at both the commissioners meeting and to the crowd gathered on Pratts Mill Road the complicated process of prioritizing bridge repair and replacement in order to qualify for state and federal funds to cover the costs. Traffic counts, proximity of other bridges, and public sentiment all play into those decisions. It’s important as well, he noted, to look at the reason the bridge was initially constructed and whether that purpose is still being served.
Then, Williams continued, “there are several hoops to jump through.”
“It should have been replaced before it went down,” one man asserted.
In fact, many residents and municipal officials had requested that the bridge be taken down or replaced several years ago. It had a relatively low weight limit of 3 tons, which was occasionally surpassed by larger trucks and emergency vehicles, according to the locals. And, it was not the most attractive structure.
Nonetheless, Williams (above, center) explained, it was deemed by the state to be a historic structure and therefore off limits.
“We couldn’t just come in and work on it,” County Maintenance Director Kim Corbett added.
“The good news,” Williams said as words of encouragement, “Now that it’s in the creek, it’s no longer a historic structure.” An estimate received for replacement of the Pratts Mill Bridge during the previous review was about $1.1 million. Williams assumes it would be a considerably higher amount now.
Commissioner Doug McLinko had noted in the early meeting that he’d been in contact with Governor’s Assistant Mark Smith to see if there might be some emergency funds available for Canton Township through PEMA or another agency.
“Is there anything we can do to help you?” local resident Angie Shoemaker asked of the county officials. “Should we be writing letters to somebody?”
“We’re all in favor of replacement,” Commissioner Ed Bustin responded. “It’s going to take a little bit of time.”
“Typical bridge replacement for us is about three years,” Corbett remarked.
“If we get further down the line and feel that we’ve hit a roadblock,” Bustin further replied, “we know that we can come back to you, and we have your support.”
Bradford County is uncommon among others in the Commonwealth in owning so many of its bridges, which the commissioners attribute to a bad deal with the state years ago.
Just downstream from the Pratts Mill Bridge is a span across Towanda Creek at LeRoy that is officially earmarked for removal. According to one man standing next to the collapsed structure in Canton Township this morning, there are currently three less bridges to Route 414 than there were prior to the 2011 flood.
“It’s getting hard to get around,” he remarked.