By Keith Gushard
The Spring Street Bridge looks like it has gone through a battle.
Its sides are pocked and the concrete is chipped away. Portions of its concrete supports are so worn away, steel reinforcement bars are exposed in some places.
The Spring Street Bridge, built in 1951, is showing signs of its age.
Though it and other major bridges that span French Creek may look like they’re about to collapse, they are safe, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Bridges like Spring Street are kept safe for the public because they undergo an inspection every two years or sooner, said Bill Koller, a bridge engineer who heads PennDOT’s bridge unit for northwest Pennsylvania.
That inspection looks at all aspects of a bridge including its road surface, joints and supports.
“We track all our bridges,” said Koller. “We don’t want to end up with a limited load capacity (or a closure). We want to make them last as long as we can.”
While aesthetically the bridges may not look good, they still performing up to standards without restrictions, he said.
PennDOT’s goal is to eventually replace or upgrade the major bridges it has over French Creek in the county, but there is no timetable at this point, Koller said.
Improving or replacing the bridges will take at least 15 to 20 years.
“If I had another $20 million I could solve all our problems on French Creek,” said Koller. “It all depends on funding. The current federal six-year funding bill for bridge repairs (across the nation) runs out in October.”
Jack Lynch, Crawford County’s planning director, agrees.
“All of these structures that dot the landscape are in competition with each other for funding,” he said. “We’re all competing for money and that’s always the rub.”
Koller is confident additional funding will come through, but isn’t sure at what level.
However, even if there was funding right now to do all the bridges at once it wouldn’t happen, according to Koller.
“The condition of them isn’t bad enough,” he said. “We can space them out.”
There are five truss-style bridges over French Creek — along routes 6 and 19 in the Saegertown and Cambridge Springs areas and one carrying Route 173 in Cochranton — that will be the first ones replaced, Koller said.
They'll get an open-style bridge with I-beam girder support underneath and out of the elements such as the Broadford Bridge on routes 6 and 19.
Those truss bridges were built between 1901 and 1937, according to Koller.
“It’s old technology,” he said. “They’re fracture critical in that they have only two supporting members — one on each side — and can break apart easily. We want to make them multi-girder with the support underneath.”
Other bridges — like the Spring and Smock bridges in Meadville — would be rehabilitated rather than replaced because they still have good structural support.
“We want to make them last as long as we can with upgrades to today’s standards for bridges,” he said.
“Many bridges can be upgraded for $50 to $100 per foot versus $650 to $700 per foot for replacement,” Koller said. “Which would the taxpayer have us do?”
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
By Keith Gushard