By Konstantine Fekos
VERNON TOWNSHIP —
Concerns for pedestrians walking Smock Bridge at their own risk have yet to rattle the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which expects no change to the current state of the bridge walkway for another two years.
PennDOT closed the walkway on Routes 6 and 19 connecting Meadville and Vernon Township in early March after an inspection deemed the railing unsafe due to rust and deterioration, according to Jim Carroll, PennDOT spokesperson.
“It’s a very extensive project,” Carroll said. “It’s too large an expense of a project to do as a separate maintenance job, so (it will) have to wait until a rehabilitation project on the bridge.”
Rehabilitating Smock Bridge would potentially encompass waterproofing, patching of the deck and superstructure and repairing the walkway. While no price estimates for such a project are available, Carroll said construction isn’t likely to begin until 2015.
Some local pedestrians aren’t willing to wait that long.
One Meadville resident observing risky behavior called the Tribune, alleging numerous incidents of people ignoring the signage and barricades to walk the bridge, often right alongside traffic.
“I’ve seen people sliding over the cement barrier and walking or (riding) bicycles in the roadway,” said Gerry Hamill, unsatisfied with similar answers she reportedly received from PennDOT after reporting her concerns.
“Crossing into Meadville I saw an elderly man walking with a cane in one hand, and his other hand on the cement barrier,” Hamill said. “My heart went out to him. He was scared.”
Carroll said he understands the blocked walkway may present an inconvenience to local travelers, but he emphasized PennDOT’s need to conserve resources until the rail project can be tied into a larger capital project. No temporary fixes are in the works at this time.
“Right now, options are limited,” Carroll said. “We just have to watch our resources and what we’re able to do.”
Law enforcement, not PennDOT, would be responsible for anyone observed breaching the walkway before the bridge rehabilitation, Carroll said.
“I’m sure (pedestrians) will find their own next best ways to walk,” he said. “I’m sure none of them will be as convenient as that walkway, but it depends on where people live and want to go.”
“If we can put a man on the moon,” Hamill said, “we can put some kind of a railing to make that bridge safe and secure (for pedestrians). In the meantime, we have a problem. Someone’s going to get killed on that bridge.”