Johnstown eyes keeping bridge closed

JOHNSTOWN – City officials say they may consider permanently closing and disassembling at least one of its bridges after the city engineer told the Common Council half of the city’s structures are in need of attention.

The Washington Street Bridge over the Hall Creek and the Townsend Avenue and West State Street bridges over the Cayadutta Creek each are at, or near, the grading threshold the state Department of Transportation considers “acceptable,” City Engineer Chandra Cotter told the Common Council at its committee meeting Monday.

Two other bridges have been at least partially closed in recent years because of deficiencies and will cost about $1 million to repair. The Miller Street bridge over the Cayadutta Creek is blocked to traffic and the North Chase Street bridge over the Hale Creek has been reduced to one lane. The city has not decided whether to fix, permanently close or demolish either structure.

Cotter said the North Chase Street bridge would cost about $560,000 to engineer and build, and the Miller Street bridge would cost about $460,000. The Miller Street bridge would cost an additional $175,000 if it were upgraded to accommodate heavier loads.

“We’ve been looking at this for a while and watching the numbers, and I think we’re getting closer to making some decisions,” said Mayor Sarah Slingerland, who said the cost to repair or replace a bridge will be a major consideration.

“It may force us to close a bridge permanently,” she said.

The Miller Street bridge, which connects a residential area with the sparsely populated Fisher Avenue and provides indirect access to Route 30A, would be a prime candidate for permanent closure, officials said.

“I only ask that if you make a decision we’re going to close it, we actually decide to take it down, because it’s been a safety issue,” said Cotter, who said children have been playing on and hanging from it.

“I think it’s one of those things we owe to the city to try to keep those bridges open,” said 2nd Ward Councilman Chris Foss, a former deputy city engineer whose ward includes the Miller and North Chase street bridges. “But I understand these are tough economic times and the city doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on bridges like that.”

Councilman-At-Large Bryan Marcucci, who lives two blocks from the Miller Street bridge, said its closing indirectly made the neighborhood safer when vehicles could no longer use the road as a shortcut from North Perry Street to Route 30A.

“Cars used to fly through there. Now, it’s quieter,” he said.

Marcucci said neighbors have not complained or commented about children playing around the bridge, and he hasn’t observed any unsafe behavior there.

“I see a lot of kids skateboarding on the Karg’s site,” he said, referring to the former Karg Brothers tannery on North Perry Street that’s now owned by the city. “Nobody ever stops them and says they’re not safe.”

The state Department of Transportation grades bridges on a scale of 1 to 7, with seven being considered a new bridge. The city’s newest bridge, a $2.4 million structure which takes North Perry Street over the Cayadutta Creek, opened in November, but it has a 6.93 grade because some finishing work remains, Cotter said.

The state considers a grade of 5 to be good. The Washington Street bridge, built in 1960, is graded at 3.46, the city’s lowest. The Townsend Avenue bridge built in 1928 is graded at 4.59 and the West State Street bridge, which was built by the state in 1953, has a grade of 5.14, according to state DOT records.

The Miller Street bridge, which was constructed in 1930, has a grade of 4.18. The city’s oldest bridge, on North Chase Street, has a 3.69 grade. That bridge was built in 1926, according to DOT records.

Fire Chief Bruce Heberer said neither bridge closing has affected response times, although permanently closing the North Chase Street bridge could be a concern since it could hinder access to an existing fire hydrant. But he said repairing the three bridges that are open now should take priority.

“Certainly those bridges would be more important, not just for us but for commerce,” he said.

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