Q: I applaud the replacement of the many structurally deficient bridges in the area. However, can you tell me why bridges marked for replacement are quickly blocked off to traffic, but then very little or no work is done on them? Case in point: The Spring Creek Road bridge was closed March 1, yet we haven't seen any progress, and work is scheduled through October. It's an inconvenience for residents and a real problem for emergency vehicles. We previously witnessed slow progress on the other bridges nearby, on Trexlertown Road and Route 100. Is PennDOT trying to irritate the taxpayer? Is there no common sense in planning and scheduling?
— Pat Weiss, Lower Macungie Township
Q: Being one of the folks that live in the Bridge Replacement Capital of the County, I'm kind of annoyed by the progress (or lack thereof) on the Spring Creek Road bridge replacement. The road has been closed since March 1, however they have only worked there for one or possibly two days so far. It is frustrating to have to detour around an empty work site week after week. What gives?
— Mike Ackerman, Lower Macungie Township
A: Keith Wexler of Alburtis and Lower Macungie residents Michael Siegel, Michael Metrick and Frank Cascio also wondered about the lack of progress on the replacement of the 75-year-old structurally deficient Spring Creek Road bridge.
Basically, information slipped through the cracks in the communication floorboards between PennDOT and the state Fish and Boat Commission regarding construction permits for work affecting the creek. In addition, a side-road issue regarding PPL Corp. and Norfolk Southern Railroad will put a drag brake on progress for another week or so. PPL has utility lines along the road, and Norfolk Southern owns a rail line adjacent to the bridge.
There's a long and winding road of a journey regarding the Fish Commission regulations about construction work affecting waterways and how they relate to this particular project, but the shortcut version is that PennDOT and the Fish Commission initially disagreed about when work could start.
A compromise was worked out, according to PennDOT spokesman Ron Young, Fish Commission Conservation Officer Lee Creyer and commission spokesman Eric Levis. The road was closed March 1 to allow the contractor to start preparation work, but before major construction could begin, the commission notified PennDOT that major work should not be done from April 1 to June 15, Young said. All work stopped until the matter could be worked out.
The parties settled on April 23 as the date that work could continue on the 100-foot-long span. "However, that won't happen," Young said, because of the other glitch: The electrical lines need to be moved, and PPL did not secure a required permit for the work from the railroad company in time, he said.
"We had anticipated they would have their permit and move their lines by now," he said Tuesday, "which did not happen." By that time, PPL did have the permit in hand, so the line-moving job has the green light to proceed — on April 30, the soonest PPL can start, Young said. A PPL spokesman confirmed this scenario.
Why didn't PennDOT reopen the road temporarily when work was halted, to keep traffic (an average of 5,619 vehicles per day) flowing until it has to be closed for sure? That couldn't happen because the missing guard rail would pose a safety risk, Young said. Also, Norfolk Southern took out the crossing gates and warnings, which is why trains are required to stop before passing, even though the road is closed. I saw this happen when I visited; it seemed ridiculous for the train to stop and a guy to descend from the locomotive to make sure the coast was clear before proceeding, but safely rules prevail.
You might think someone in charge of the bridge replacement would coordinate with all parties to ensure that all necessary permits were secured before a road is closed, but apparently not. OK, that's probably more difficult than it might seem — unforeseen problems can arise, and stuff happens that's outside anyone's control. Young compared the situation to having a number of contractors working on your house at the same time: Even with the best of intentions, coordination perfection is elusive.
Still, many road projects seem to progress at a rate well below the speed limit, even though PennDOT seems to allocate generous amounts of time for the work. Shorter-term contacts would be more costly, Young said. In addition, contractors sometimes are spread too thin, working on a number of projects at once, resulting in one work site's being "inactive" at times while crews toil at another.
After considering a number of these roadwork delays over the years, my scenario has PennDOT, Fish and Boat, Department of Environmental Protection, Historical and Museum Commission, county agencies, municipal agencies, PPL, UGI, railroad companies, phone companies, TV cable companies, and I'm surely missing some, all climbing into the vehicle, weighing it down and failing to communicate as it lumbers down the road, the agencies taking turns dragging their brake shoes then blaming one another for failing to arrive on schedule. Throw in the most familiar culprit of all, inclement weather, and it's a wonder any road project ever gets done.
With the lack of progress so far, I would bet that work on the Spring Creek Road bridge will drive past the scheduled completion date of October. We'll see.
One other issue regarding this project: Tim Campion of Lower Macungie and Don Stoveken of Macungie both suggested that the traffic signal at Spring Creek and Trexlertown roads be placed on "flash" mode, or replaced by stop signs, because with the eastern leg of Spring Creek closed, and only an access road to a vacant material-storage lot making up the fourth leg, only two movements prevail — left from Spring Creek to Trexlertown or right from Trexlertown to Spring Creek.
Young yanked the keys from that ignition. The eastern leg of Spring Creek remains open for a short stretch where a house is located. The residents use the road, and need the signal. Traffic, though extremely light, possibly could come from the storage yard, too. Finally, it's conceivable that pedestrians could be using the crosswalks, Young said. From what I observed, they'd have to be ghosts. But he's right: It's not impossible.
Road Warrior appears Mondays and Fridays, and the Warrior blogs at mcall.com. Email questions about roadways, traffic and transportation, with your name and the municipality where you live, to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Road Warrior, Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105-1260.