A simple ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday afternoon ended more than nine years of waiting for replacement of the Mead Avenue Bridge over French Creek connecting Meadville and Vernon Township.
"This means a lot to the Meadville community, it certainly means a lot to the businesses in this corridor," said Jay Verno, president of Hagan Business Machines of Meadville. Hagan has its offices located on Mead Avenue.
Verno was among about two dozen business people, city and county officials who took part in the ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the opening of the new Mead Avenue Bridge.
The former Mead Avenue Bridge, a county-owned bridge, closed in March 2007 after the steel and wood plank span was deemed no longer safe for public use after an inspection by county officials and EADS Group Inc., the county's engineering firm.
"Not everybody made it here," Verno said, noting some businesses along the Mead Avenue corridor had closed since the old bridge was shut down. "Small businesses are what make Meadville a special place."
For Pat Mattocks, who owns Meadville Farm and Garden on Mead Avenue, the occasion was bittersweet. Her late husband, Richard, was an advocate with Crawford County government and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to get the bridge replaced.
"I'm just thankful they overcame a lot of the obstacles (to get it replaced)," she said. "It's a beautiful bridge and it's finally finished. I appreciate our customers and employees hanging in there. (The closure) had cut our (store) traffic flow more than in half."
Francis Weiderspahn Jr., chairman of Crawford County commissioners, said completion of the bridge was the culmination of a lot of effort by the business community.
"This is for the businesses down here," Weiderspahn said. "They're the ones that suffered for almost 10 years and fought so hard" to get it replaced.
Scott Hanaway is glad to see the new bridge in operation. Hanaway is the president of Tech Molded Plastics, a maker of precision molded plastic parts. Tech Molded Plastics is located about a block south of Mead Avenue on French Street.
The reopening of the bridge adds to the safety factor of the plant, allowing access from both east and west, rather than just from the east, Hanaway said.
"We get half a dozen to a dozen trucks — tractor trailers or UPS — on a daily basis," Hanaway said. "They now have an opportunity to come to us from (the west) instead of just one."
The old bridge had a weight limit of 4 tons and averaged approximately 4,500 vehicles per day crossing it prior to its closure in 2007. The new bridge will be able to handle tractor-trailer traffic with loads up to 40 tons.
The new bridge is a two-span, pre-stressed concrete structure that was built by Mekis Construction Corp. of Fenelton for $6.87 million with PennDOT overseeing the construction.
PennDOT awarded the construction bid to Mekis Construction in September 2014 with preliminary construction work started that fall. Full construction work didn't begin until the spring of 2015 due to in-stream restrictions from both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission for some protected species of aquatic life in French Creek.
The new bridge is larger than the previous one and required additional rights-of-way on both sides of French Creek. There also was a realignment of the Route 102, Mead Avenue and Hank Street intersection in Vernon Township with a turning lane for southbound traffic on Route 102 and a traffic light installed at the intersection.
The intersection initially will be a four-way stop for a few weeks complete with temporary stop signs and blinking lights to allow traffic to get used to the traffic pattern.
While construction cost was just less than $7 million, the total project is about $11 million. The additional cost was for property and rights-of-way acquisitions on both sides of French Creek for the new bridge, engineering, a traffic signal and lighting and road work in Vernon Township.
The federal Highway Administration is paying 80 percent of the cost; PennDOT 15 percent; and PennDOT is paying the county's 5 percent because Crawford County is classified as a low to moderate-income county.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 vehicles per day over French Creek when it closed due to structural and safety issues on March 23, 2007.