Bridge problems cause headaches in London Grove11/15/2021 09:36PM ● By Steven Hoffman
The bridges of London Grove Township are not exactly fodder for a romantic Hollywood movie or an aesthetic photo exhibit.
Their closures, however, are a pain in the side for drivers who are trying to get somewhere else in that municipality. Most of these bridge detours greatly increase the time it takes to get to a destination, and travelers have reportedly complained. There are also more traffic hazards leading to accidents.
As time goes by, and more municipal meetings take place, the notifications on the number of bridge closings or bridges with weight limitations continue to mount.
At least three bridges are of major concern. One is Woodview Road, which veers west off Route 41 just north of the Route 1 bypass, which has been damaged and closed for an estimated three years.
Charlene Lambert, who lives adjacent to tiny bridge, said she can hardly remember when it was not closed. She said she must take a detour on routes 1 and 41 to pick up her granddaughter at school, and sometimes it takes so long she fears she will be late.
She also regularly – “just about every day” -- observes drivers taking a chance that the bridge is actually open.
“I see the cars drive in up to the bridge, and they realize it’s really closed. They turn around in my driveway and go back,” she said.
Hilton Road runs west of Guernsey Road. It is open but has had its weight capacity lowered because of deemed weaknesses. Township Manager Ken Battin said the limitations have been in place for years. He added he suspects when repairs are finally started there, crews will find that a complete replacement is needed.
The Glen Willow Road bridge is along the northward curve at Chenoa Manor as a result of Hurricane Ida flooding in September. Accessing the animal refuge there means detouring southward from the north end of Glen Willow.
And there are more bridges the township that are in trouble.
Battin said in recent weeks that another Woodview Road bridge on the east side of 41 had had its weight limit lowered by PennDOT engineers. When he was asked to describe what size truck in his mind would no longer be allowed, he said perhaps a large tanker or ladder fire truck.
A bridge on Tice Road, west off Guernsey, is another one that has had its weight limit lowered.
Why does London Grove have so many bridge problems?
According to Battin, this township has the second most bridges of any municipality in Chester County, and the spans of these bridges may be measured from as little as four feet to the size of a large highway bridge.
The culprit that has been damaging the bridges, Battin said, is the White Clay Creek, whose headwaters traverse London Grove. Whenever a road encounters one of those streams, the pathway over it must be attended to.
There are other factors at play in London Grove, as well.
Some of the bridges are old and date back to the 1800s, Battin said. Through the years, they have aged -- or worse have been widened -- to accommodate increased traffic and farm commerce. The years, the wear, and the make-do construction repairs have weakened them.
It is unlikely, Battin said, that dealing with the current bridge problems will end soon, either. At a recent meeting, he said that funding will be needed over the next five to ten years to repair the bridges—to the tune of at least $250,000 a year.
For the 2022 budget, the money will be taken out of the open space fund for one year. That fund is well stocked, according to supervisors. However, a permanent source of funding must be identified next year for the 2023 budget and beyond. Possibilities discussed include a temporary increase in the earned-income tax and borrowing from the emergency services fund or open space funds.
In consideration of the recently passed federal infrastructure bill, several billion dollars will be received by the state of Pennsylvania and the township will be able to apply for funding to make repairs to bridges. Published reports have estimated that Pennsylvania will receive $1.6 billion over the next five years for bridges. It’s not an automatic infusion to London Grove, however. The township must apply for the money and be approved, Battin said.
It is still unclear how the construction will be carried out on the various bridges. That work could be done by the London Grove Public Works Department, state contract labor or a pre-constructed bridge could be brought if a bridge is being replaced.
The timing is also uncertain due to supply chain issues, among other things, Battin said.
He reported at the November township meeting that work is going on now, but it is mostly in the engineering and planning stages.
Finally, there is one other unknown and that is the White Clay Creek’s status as a “Wild and Scenic River.” Wild and Scenic” is a federal designation that protects the stream from various local intrusions. It may have some effect on what is done with the bridges.
“That is beyond our scope,” Battin said.