Monday, November 30, 2015

PennDOT delays work on one of county's oldest bridges

Public objections to reconstruction of Centre Avenue Bridge linking Newtown Borough and Township are under review. Public meeting will follow, PennDOT says.

PennDOT delays work on one of county's oldest bridges

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Centre Avenue Bridge dates to 1796. (Bill Reed/Staff)

Reconstruction of one of the oldest bridges in Bucks County has been put on hold while PennDOT officials review residents’ concerns that the work would destroy the span’s historical significance.

“We’re hoping they [PennDOT] will come back and give it the treatment it truly deserves,” Newtown Borough architect Larry Fink said Monday about the Centre Avenue Bridge, which connects Newtown Borough and Township.  “If nothing else, this has made residents aware of how historically significant it really is.”

The two-lane bridge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the oldest spans in the state and one of the oldest structures in the country. It was built in 1796 with money raised from the sale of lots on the town common laid out by William Penn.

The bridge over Newtown Creek was one of five spans that PennDOT planned to put out for bid next month to raise it to 21st century standards.

Plans called for the stone walls to be dismantled and replaced with concrete. The stones would be used in the walls' façade, but they wouldn't be returned to their original positions and might be cut or sliced, Chuck Davies, PennDot's assistant district director of design, said earlier this month.

The bridge's appearance would not be altered and its listing on the National Register would not be affected, Davies said.  PennDOT has won awards for similar work, officials said.

PennDOT pulled the bridge from the upcoming contract, however, while the department and the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission review transcripts of a Feb. 29 public meeting of community leaders and residents, spokesman Eugene J. Blaum said Monday.

When the review is complete, PennDOT will conduct a public meeting about the work, Blaum said, though he could not provide a date.  

At the Feb. 29 meeting, many of the 30 or so leaders and residents complained that the work would rob them of a piece of history and that PennDOT had not documented the span’s structural problems.

"You can't remove the stones and the mortar and keep the history," said Fink, a former chairman of the Newtown Joint Historic Commission.

The bridge does need remedial work  that could be done by pulling out the stones and returning them to their original position, Fink said Monday.

The delay is “very welcome,” said Mike Sellers, president of the Newtown Creek Coalition.

“They’re responsibility is to meet with the public and interested parties and disclose evidence of structural problems,” Sellers said. “We may agree with them, but show us what the problems are.”

The bridge needs to be strong enough to withstand a car crash, PennDOT officials have said. 

With the postponement, the allocated state funds are no longer available, Blaum said, and a new source will need to be determined. The cost of the work had been estimated at $750,000.

Blaum could not provide a timetable for the work.

Even if it’s delayed long-term, Fink said, “it’s better than having the bridge gone forever.” 


From earlier: Preservation consultant assesses plan for Centre Avenue Bridge.

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About this blog
Chris Palmer covers Bucks County for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His previous work has appeared in the New York Times and on several Times blogs, including City Room, the Local East Village and SchoolBook (which has since been taken over by WNYC). Contact him at, 610 313 8212 or on Twitter, @cs_palmer.

Ben Finley covers Bucks County for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He previously worked for The Associated Press, and the Bucks County Courier Times, where he won more than a dozen journalism awards from organizations including the Education Writers Association, the Society for Features Journalism and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and graduated with honors from The Ohio State University with a degree in journalism. Contact him at, 610-313-8118 or on Twitter, @Ben_Finley.

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