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Warm reception planned for piece of Cold Springs Bridge

Q: PennDOT's District 5 website lists the Cold Springs Bridge as a bridge-replacement project. The bridge is located on Second Street over Spring Creek in Whitehall Township. The project status is listed as 'preliminary engineering phase,' with an estimated construction start date of 2014. The concrete arch bridge dates to 1930. The deck is bumpy, because the expansion joints have buckled above the road surface from freeze and thaw cycles this winter. Also the bridge has no drains to drain the water beneath the deck. For about 20 years, the bridge has been limited to one truck at a time, and a 25 mph speed limit is imposed on trucks weighing over 26,000 pounds.

— Scott Snyder, North Whitehall Township

A: The $4 million replacement of the concrete bridge that carries Second Street in Whitehall Township over Cold Springs Creek is scheduled to be advertised for construction bids late next month or in early May, Scott.

Barring unexpected potholes, work should begin about two months after that and take about 18 months to complete, according to PennDOT spokesman Ron Young. The state is mapping a course to late 2015 as the opening date for the new span.

I was surprised by the size of the existing bridge, with its single, graceful arch spanning a 260-foot-wide gap over the waterway between Clear Spring Pond and the Lehigh River, also passing over the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor recreation trail. There's an electrical substation and two pump-station buildings beneath the bridge as well.

From a distance, the open spandrel, reinforced-concrete arch bridge resembles a subcompact version of the Albertus Meyers Bridge in Allentown. In that sense, it will be sad to see the Cold Springs go, but go it must, as any hope of rehabilitation appears to have passed some time ago, at least in the view through my non-engineer windshield. It's rated as structurally deficient, and today's photo speaks to its condition.

Second Street in this northern tip of the township — the line with North Whitehall Township lies just to the north — enjoys a relatively low average daily traffic figure of 2,463 vehicles. Traffic was sparse during my late-morning weekday visit, though cars came in "trains," as is often the case. (This can result from factors including the function of traffic signals, and on rural two-laners such as this one, the fact that the slowest-moving vehicle at any given time tends to create a small queue of quicker followers.)

Still, about 2,500 motorists and any passengers will face an inconvenient detour to MacArthur Road and Route 329 for a year and a half. They'll have plenty of company, of course, across the region and the state, as PennDOT continues to hit the gas on the repair or replacement of its crumbling bridges.

Though this far from the oldest bridge in the region, its design features make it something of a standout model. State officials are working with the America on Wheels transportation museum in Allentown to create an exhibit that will help aim the high beams on bridge design and on the Lehigh Valley's role in the early development of the cement industry.

The exhibit, which could open by late this year, also will feature educational aspects of structural engineering and other transportation-system design features, according to museum Executive Director Linda Merkel.

"Needless to say, we are delighted to bring this new exhibit to America on Wheels for all who visit to enjoy," Merkel wrote in an email. "The educational piece … will include [aspects of] building with concrete. Many of our bridges are constructed using reinforced concrete. Concrete was first produced in the U.S. by David O. Saylor of Coplay 1871. In 1890; the U.S. Geological Survey reported that 60 percent of the nation's concrete was produced in the Lehigh Valley."

PennDOT's Young said 3- to 4-foot sections of the bridge wall, or parapet, and of the arch, will be preserved for the exhibit to help give the public a sense of "the history of concrete-arch bridges in the Lehigh Valley," allowing patrons to see "how the concrete and [reinforcing] bars work together," along with other aspects of bridge design and engineering detail.

In addition, PenDOT plans to post an interpretive sign or panel for hikers, bikers and others using the Heritage Corridor trail, which follows the river just east of the bridge.

The new bridge will be more mundane of design, a three-span concrete T-beam model, but it will be a little wider than the existing span — 35 feet versus 29 feet, according to Young.

Unfortunately, at this point PennDOT does not plan to replace the existing sidewalk on the bridge. "The township would not agree to maintain the sidewalk," Young said, referring to snow and debris removal, not structural repairs and maintenance, which is the state's responsibility.

That's not exactly true, according to Whitehall Mayor Ed Hozza, who said the issue of snow removal did come up during discussions about the new bridge, but that the dispute really centers on the township's request for a sidewalk protected by a Jersey barrier, ramping up the safety factor to a level higher than that afforded by a standard curb design. Hozza said a PennDOT contractor told township officials that that it would be "technically unfeasible" to install a Jersey barrier, though "I didn't understand why," the mayor said. He denied that the township framed the Jersey barrier request as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.

Young said officials still have about a month to resolve the disagreement, which could put the sidewalk (without the Jersey barrier) back in gear. Hozza agreed it's possible that "we could work something out."

I trust officials will find a way to make the gears mesh on this matter. It would be wasteful to spend $4 million to replace that bridge without replacing the sidewalk — Jersey barrier or not. That's despite the fact that pedestrian traffic is light, and is likely to stay that way for a long way down the road. The cost of a walk can't amount to more than a fraction of a percent of the overall project cost.

While investigating the bridge replacement, I happened upon a scenic side-road: Clear Spring Pond, which lies just to the west of the bridge. Owner Northampton Borough Municipal Authority uses a mix of river and pond water to supply 15,000 customers in the borough and parts of five surrounding municipalities. Authority Assistant Manager Stephen Kerbacher said the capacity of the man-made lake has been estimated as high as 100 million gallons. There's also a state-of-the-art treatment plant on a rise just north of the pond.

I grew up in Whitehall, have lived in the Valley for 63 years, yet I'd never seen or heard of Clear Spring Pond. At least, not that I remember.

Road Warrior appears Mondays and Fridays, and the Warrior blogs at Email questions about roadways, traffic and transportation, with your name and the municipality where you live, to, or write to Road Warrior, Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105-1260.

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