PennDOT delays work on one of county's oldest bridges

Blog Image 982908 - Reed
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.” 

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

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