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Chester County Press

Crossing that bridge when they get to it

05/07/2014 01:20PM ● By Acl

Since its official closing three years ago, the historic Chandler Mill Road Bridge in Kennett Township has had, in effect, two opposing factions standing on either side of the deteriorating structure. 

On one side, there are those who see it from the standpoint of conservation, who view the bridge as a vital link to the Red Clay Greenways Trail and with all of the potential to be a quiet crossover for bicyclists and pedestrians. On the other side stand those who view the bridge as a vital transportation capillary, suddenly atrophied. 

Currently, the bridge is owned by Chester County, who is in the process of creating preliminary designs that will eventually convert the bridge into a two-lane, two-way structure, thus reopening a primary road that connects area residents from Kennett Square to Gap-Newport Pike. At the same time, they are giving Kennett Township the opportunity to assume ownership of the bridge and be able to build the bridge that want, at their own cost of design, construction and maintenance. 

Since the briidge's closing, the Kennett Township board of supervisors, led by chairman Scudder Stevens, has held open forums to solicit opinions and suggestions on what the future should hold for the bridge. Not surprisingly, the opinions are wide and differing, and peppered in their conversation are terms like “accessibility,” “weight-load,” “safety,” and “preservation.” The recent public meeting on this issue, held April 30, began at 7 p.m. and ended a little after 11 p.m., and its marathon length was further evidence that neither side seems willing to budge on their respective stances. 

And yet, into this stand-off came a ray of potential, one that spoke in the great voice of compromise. 

Representing the engineering firm of Remington, Vernick & Beach, Jessica Hauber gave a presentation that offered five potential design and construction scenarios for the bridge – should the township accept the county's offer to assume ownership of the bridge. Of the five options, the firm's fourth option presented an ingenious concept that would please even the most hardened skeptics. In this design, Chandler Mill Road would be realigned slightly to the east of the current bridge, and a new bridge would be constructed for two-lane traffic, while the existing bridge would be rehabilitated for pedestrian and bike use only. Building two bridges would increase safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, and both federal and PennDOT funding can be used for the new bridge, since it will be opened to vehicular traffic. 

Hauber estimated that the construction of this bridge option would take over a year and, estimated at $2.51 million, this is by far the most expensive option that the firm presented. And yet, what is the cost of history, of conservation, of accessibility? Of time? Conservative estimates say that if the county retains ownership of the bridge, that a ribbon-cutting ceremony won't occur for at least five years. It is time the supervisors to bring those on both sides of this issue together, with the idea of forging ahead on a project that, in the end, will not require just one ribbon-cutting ceremony ... but two.