By Mary Spicer
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has postponed the scheduled date for opening construction bids on the replacement of the Mead Avenue Bridge from Nov. 7 of this year to spring 2014, a move that has thrown the projected fall 2014 completion date of the project into question.
“The actual date for opening the bids will be determined after the right-of-way issues have been resolved,” PennDOT spokesman Jim Carroll told the Tribune Tuesday afternoon.
Bid requirements will be advertised approximately a month before the opening date and contracts will be awarded approximately six weeks after the opening, following a review of the apparent low bid to confirm that all qualifications have been met, Carroll explained.
The county-owned bridge, which spans French Creek between Meadville and Vernon Township, was closed in March 2007 after an inspection by the county and its engineering firm found deficiencies.
Plans call for a new, larger bridge to be built on the site of the current bridge at an estimated cost of approximately $10 million. Until recently, preparation work was scheduled to be completed by May of this year, bids for the construction work were expected to be opened in June, construction was expected to begin by late summer or early fall and the bridge was scheduled for completion by fall 2014. Even when the bid opening date was rescheduled for November, optimism remained high that the project could be completed by fall 2014.
At this point, however, the final completion date remains uncertain.
Land in Vernon Township both north and south of the current bridge has been condemned by the county for the new bridge and for a temporary construction easement. However, Denis E. and Rose A. Alexatos, a husband and wife from Vernon Township who own the condemned land, filed preliminary objections to the county’s condemnation procedures in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas.
Denis Alexatos told the Tribune Tuesday that the postponement to spring 2014 doesn’t change anything on his end. He maintained that he doesn’t want to sacrifice his properties.
“If I had the money, I would take it to the state level and we’re thinking about that,” Alexatos said. “We’re not getting any justification in this courthouse.”
Alexatos continued to say that the right-of-way issues shouldn’t be an excuse for PennDOT to postpone the opening of the bids.
“I’m not holding them up,” he said. “If they wanted to push this through, they could do it.”
In a ruling handed down Aug. 27, Judge John Spataro ordered an evidentiary hearing for Sept. 19 to determine whether the amount of property condemned by the county “is more than is reasonably required for the replacement and reconstruction of the Mead Avenue Bridge.”
In the ruling, Spataro said the evidentiary hearing will deal with the amount of land, but he will also rule on four other issues raised in the preliminary objections.
At the time, Spataro described the four issues as:
- Whether the federal Fish and Wildlife Service not approving of the current flood mitigation design prevents the county from condemning the property;
- Whether the condemnation by the county is premature because the federal Fish and Wildlife Service and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission have yet to finalize approval;
- Whether the county’s failure to submit proper staging, stormwater management, flood mitigation and other necessary operations to protect endangered species of mussels and other aquatic life in French Creek to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service and state Fish and Boat Commission for final approval make the county’s condemnation proceedings procedurally defective; and
- Whether environmental permits and clearances are required before the county may initiate and pursue condemnation proceedings.
Funding for the project will be provided by the federal Highway Administration and PennDOT.
Though Crawford County owns the Mead Avenue Bridge, the federal Highway Administration will pay 80 percent of the replacement cost; Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will pay 15 percent; and PennDOT also is picking up the county’s 5 percent because Crawford County is classified as a low- to moderate-income county.
Construction cost of the bridge itself is estimated at $7 million to $7.25 million, while another $2 million to $3 million will be needed for necessary property and right-of-way acquisition, engineering, traffic control signal and lighting, plus realignment of the Cussewago Road/Route 102, Mead Avenue and Hank Street intersection in Vernon Township.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.