North Irwin bridge replacement could take up to 5 years |

North Irwin bridge replacement could take up to 5 years

A railroad company has been ordered to fix a badly deteriorated support under the bridge connecting Fourth Street and West Broadway Avenue in North Irwin to keep the span from collapsing before it can be torn down and replaced in a process that could take up to five years to complete.

The 140-foot-long wooden deck bridge, which was built in 1911, was closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic July 12 after a PennDOT inspection discovered that its steel support columns are so rusty that the bridge can no longer be expected to bear its own weight, according to transportation officials.

More than two dozen people and officials spent nearly three hours at the North Irwin borough offices Friday to hash out the complicated process of replacing the bridge.

Dan Helfrich, a civil engineer with the state Public Utility Commission has ordered Norfolk Southern Corp. to temporarily shore up the bridge within 120 days. The company owns the tracks that run below the bridge and is responsible for maintenance and repairs. Westmoreland County and the borough share responsibility for the bridge deck.

“It concerns me that the bridge might still be over stressed, especially with additional dead load from the weight of snow,” Helfrich said. “I’m leaning toward (requiring) some temporary repairs right now just to lean on side of public safety.”

Tom Bracey, a systems engineer with the railroad, estimated that it would cost about $90,000 to repair the severely rusted support beams. He asked to have that money go toward demolition work, but Helfrich balked at not taking immediate action and suggested that the expense be viewed as sort of an insurance policy until such time as the bridge can be replaced.

Henry Fitz, an engineer with Westmoreland County’s road department, said the best-case scenario would be about two years before replacement work begins. Helfrich estimated that it could take between three and five years before the new bridge is ready for traffic.

North Irwin engineer Lucien Bove said that given the bridge’s poor condition, making some sort of repairs to the supports might be needed before workers and equipment could be brought in for the demolition work.

Carol Adams of Peoples Natural Gas said once the emergency repairs are completed, the utility company will have to cap and remove a 6-inch gas line that crosses the span to supply energy to 18 residential and commercial customers. That line will be replaced with a new one that will be extended about 3,000 feet from a nearby sewage treatment plant.

During that phase of the project, gas trucks will provide temporary service to customers.

Adams estimated it will cost about $300,000 and take about six months to relocate the gas line.

Chris Bova of the county Department of Planning said 95 percent of the $3-million to $3.5-million cost of replacing the bridge will be funded by federal and state grants allocated for local bridge projects.

Officials are trying to determine if the portion of the project paid for by Norfolk Southern can serve as the mandatory local contribution for the project, said Bova, adding that some money already has been earmarked by the county to move forward.

“We were successful in getting the ($300,000 cost for the) preliminary engineering phase on the 2015 transportation improvement program,” he said. “Once that phase is complete, rights of way, permitting, utility relocation and then construction can begin. We intend to move this through as quickly as possible.”

Bove said having the bridge closed is a public-safety concern because the two other roads leading into the borough are steep, narrow and have sharp turns that will be difficult to traverse for public-safety vehicles such as firetrucks.

Also, the borough road crew will have to use follow an eight-mile detour through Irwin and North Huntingdon to reach its storage facility for road salt.

Once the project is completed, North Irwin will take over responsibility for maintaining the entire span.

Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer.

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