Lehigh Valley

Northampton County Council ready to take on debt to fix bridges

EASTON, Pa. - Northampton County Council is prepared to go down a financial path that will allow the repair of 18 of the county's worst bridges at what one official says is "a discount."

Council signaled its intent to refinance a $9.9 million bond from 2006 and then take on an additional $11.4 million in debt so the bridges can be fixed.

That will happen on July 2, when an Internet auction will be held, said council president John Cusick.

Council member Tom Dietrich said taking on the debt now, when substantial savings from the 2006 bond refinancing can be applied to the bridge repairs, will allow the county to get the work done "at a discount."

Dietrich said that if council doesn't act now, another similar opportunity wouldn't present itself until 2019.

Getting the bridges fixed is important because they "impact commerce and public safety," he said.

About three dozen other bridges need improvements, according to a study by an engineering consultant hired by the county.

The county will spend $7.1 million of the $11.4 million bond on the bridges , with $3.2 million earmarked for work at Gracedale, the county nursing home, including the replacement of an emergency generator and fixing the parking lot.

Tricia Mezzacappa, of West Easton, suggested to council that budgeting for the bridge repairs over a three-year period would be a "better idea" than paying for the work with a bond.

Council member Bruce Gilbert said that given the bridges' age and condition, the time to act is now. "It comes down to the fact that they're unsafe," he said. This is well overdue, and we've gone through many ways to do this."

Cusick said repairing one bridge at a time "doesn't cut it."

Bridge repair "isn't sexy," Cusick added, "but it's a core function of government."
Mezzacappa suggested council wait until after the November election "for the next administration to decide what it wants to go into debt for."

The outgoing Stoffa administration supports the $11.4 million bond.

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