Opening of new bridge highlights challenges for smaller towns in completing replacement projects

 

The opening of a new, county-owned bridge is good news for a western Lehigh County community.

However, it highlights the hardships smaller municipalities face in dealing with replacement projects.

Bittners Corner Road Bridge opened Tuesday. It had been closed since August of last year.

With Pennsylvania ranking second in the nation with deficient bridges, any new one is something to celebrate. However, townships like Lowhill say it's the bridges you typically don't see that cause the biggest financial headaches.

As crews disassembled a temporary one-lane bridge, neighbor Brenda Love celebrated the opening of the permanent one at Bittners Corner Road.

"It'll be good because we don't have to wait for the other person to cross. It's two lanes," she said.

The original dates back to 1875. The nearly $2-million updated version, which spans Jordan Creek and is owned by Lehigh County, was totally paid for with state funds.

"This is a beautiful area with the hills and streams but it's expensive to maintain," said Brian Carl, while walking across Bear Road Bridge.

Carl, the township administrator for both Weisenberg and Lowhill, says small municipal-owned bridges like at Bear Road cost $400,000 to replace, 20 percent of the township's yearly budget. Lowhill has five bridges that need replacing.

"Where do you get that money?" WFMZ's Bo Koltnow asked.

"You have to save it, and take it away from other things," he said.

Carl says infrastructure money from the state sent to municipalities is spread thin and covers any and all township projects, not just bridges.

"A lot of people look at large projects and bridges that span the Lehigh River or higher volume road. But there are a lot of these fairly expensive structures on lower volume roads throughout the Valley," he said.

If closed, the smaller road bridges like Bear Road could cause detours that last for miles, creating a problem for emergency management crews.

As for Bittners, it's open, and now the state only has about 3,050 more bridges to replace.