By Keith Gushard
A new Mead Avenue Bridge connecting Meadville and Vernon Township can’t be in place soon enough for some.
“I’ll be happy once they start — and happier once they finish it,” said Scott Hanaway, president of Tech Molded Plastics Inc., a manufacturing business located on French Street in Meadville about one block from the bridge.
The Crawford County-owned Mead Avenue Bridge, which spans French Creek about two blocks northwest of his shop, closed in March 2007 after an inspection by the county and EADs Group, the county’s engineering firm, found structural and safety deficiencies.
Work on the new bridge is expected to begin in 2013 with completion by the fall of 2014, according to both the county and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. It will be a beam construction of open style, and a little wider than the current two-lane bridge.
Tuesday night, the public got a chance to view bridge plans and the proposed construction schedule at an open house hosted by the county and PennDOT.
The Mead Avenue Bridge being closed for the past five and one-half years has affected Tech’s business, Hanaway said. The company gets about a dozen trucks a day to its loading docks — either dropping off supplies or picking up product. Since the bridge has closed, trucks can’t come directly to Tech, but use an alternate route through the city.
“I’m disappointed that it’s taken this long,” said Hanaway, who was among some 30 people to attend the hour-long session. “It’s detrimental to our property values and affected safety and access. Having the bridge back open will give direct access and better routing for trucks because some of the same ones that visit us go to C&J Industries and Dad’s (Ainsworth Pet Nutrition).” C&J and Ainsworth are two other area manufacturers.
Some Vernon Township residents also are anxious to see the bridge built.
“It looks good to me,” said Jim Moertel, a Vernon Township resident who routinely used the Mead Avenue Bridge to get into Meadville from his home near the Whispering Pines Golf Course in Vernon Township. He’s had to use a different route to get into downtown.
“I’m glad to see a left turn lane to get onto the bridge from the north on Route 102 (in Vernon Township) and a traffic light (at the Route 102 and Mead Avenue Bridge intersection in Vernon Township),” said Moertel.
Joe Satterlee, another Vernon Township resident who lives on Harmonsburg Road, agrees.
“It will help,” Satterlee said. “It looks good.”
Though the county owns the bridge, the federal and state governments are involved because they are funding the replacement.
The federal Highway Administration is paying 80 percent of the cost; Pennsylvania Department of Transportation 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 about $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 Route 102, Mead Avenue and Hank Street intersection in Vernon Township.
All preparation work for the project is scheduled to be completed by May, with bids for the construction work to be opened in June, according to PennDOT. Construction is expected to begin in late summer or early fall next year, with completion by fall 2014.
The Mead Avenue Bridge’s history goes back almost 200 years, according to meadvillebridge.com, the official website for the project.
Originally, a wooden bridge was built at the site in 1828. It was replaced with a steel truss Whipple Bridge in 1871 by the Penn Bridge Works of New Brighton. In 1907, the bridge was condemned as unsafe to carry trolley cars. In 1912, the original Whipple trusses were reinforced by grafting Baltimore trusses to the outside of the bridge to improve load-carrying capacity. Due to its age and unique engineering significance/construction, the bridge was determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The Mead Avenue Bridge, although posted with a 4-ton weight limit, was carrying approximately 4,500 cars per day over French Creek when it closed due to structural and safety issues, on March 23, 2007. It remains closed.
A display of the Mead Avenue Bridge, including possible portions of the current bridge, are to be put on display at a kiosk near the site of the new bridge, according to Crawford County and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.