By Mary Spicer
Once upon a time, a bridge spanned the waterway known as French Creek between Mead Avenue, the thoroughfare known as Arch Street before it crosses the French Creek Parkway in downtown Meadville, and Vernon Township’s Pennsylvania Avenue, also known as Route 102.
In 1872, the Mead Avenue Bridge opened, supplanting a dilapidated wooden covered structure desperately in need of replacement known as the Dock Street Bridge.
In 1907, the bridge was condemned as unsafe to carry trolley cars. Duly reinforced, repaired and in use for much of the next hundred years, it was permanently closed in March 2007 after an inspection revealed problems so severe that the decision was eventually made to replace it.
At this point, details are being worked out and agreements are being put into place that may have construction of a long-awaited $6 million bridge project under way during the 2013 construction season and completed in 2014.
During Meadville City Council’s recent monthly meeting, a resolution on the agenda authorizing signatures on a lighting agreement between the city and Crawford County for the bridge was pulled by Mayor Christopher Soff with the comment that “this needs discussion at a future meeting.”
“It’s recently come to my attention in reviewing this agreement and what it’s about that the Mead Avenue Bridge never called for lights to be put on it but apparently the city requested lights to be put on the bridge,” Soff said. “Because of that, this agreement sets forth that the county will put the lights on the bridge but we own them once they’re up. However, we must get county approval for anything we want to do to them, to repair, maintain and remove. And they must be kept in a certain condition.”
Since the bridge being replaced didn’t have lights and the Mercer Street Bridge that crosses French Creek slightly to the south still doesn’t, Soff added, he’s simply not convinced that lights are necessary on the new bridge. “Maybe at the end of the day, it will be a good thing and I’ll support it, but at the present time, I just don’t have enough information to base a decision,” Soff said.
This plan, according to City Manager Joe Chriest, is not without precedent. In fact, the city has a roadway lighting agreement with Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that will have PennDOT installing decorative lighting designed to city specifications along North Street between Water and State streets and the city picking up the tab for electricity and maintenance once installation is complete. Ditto for Smock Bridge, where a city agreement with PennDOT had the state designing the brackets and installing the lights along the middle of the roadway, which passes through the city, West Mead and Vernon townships. When the city gets the electric bill, West Mead and Vernon pay their portions on a per-light basis.
Although Vernon Township has opted to not illuminate the township’s portion of the bridge, which begins at the midpoint of French Creek, plans call for lights to be installed on either side of the bridge, tying in with sidewalks approaching the bridge and along both sides of the bridge itself. “We’d kind of like to make it safe for pedestrians and bicyclists,” Chriest said. The design of the lights themselves will be consistent with decorative lighting already in place along Chestnut Street and Park Avenue and lighting being installed in connection with PennDOT’s North Street Improvement Project.
As Crawford County Commissioner Jack Lynch recalls the Mead Avenue project, aesthetics were considered to be important — and appropriate lighting was part of the discussion.
“There’s not a cheaper way to go in terms of getting lighting built into the project cost,” Lynch said, referring to the plan to include lights in the original project design. “If they’d like us to come over, we’ll talk about it,” Lynch said, noting that since the aesthetic importance of gateway approaches to the city was part of the overall discussion, as was pedestrian safety, the lighting plan shouldn’t be discarded casually.
Amara Geffen, a professor of art at Allegheny College who serves as a member of the citizens advisory committee formed to oversee the planning of the bridge, feels eliminating lights would not make the bridge pedestrian-friendly. “We should be planning our streetscape enhancements to integrate not only vehicular traffic concerns but also pedestrian concerns — and bikers,” she said.
Meadville City Council is expected to discuss the issue during its May 1 study session, which begins at 4 p.m. in City Hall on Diamond Park.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.