Friday, October 8, 2010

Does deteriorating Ferry Street Bridge threaten New Hope and Solebury P.A. schoolchildren?

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The State Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has decided to begin completely replacing New Hope's Ferry Street Bridge spanning the Delaware Canal in November of next year, and aims to finish sometime the following spring.

But if the bridge is deteriorating and needs to be replaced sooner than later as the DCNR claims, why hasn't the agency lowered the weight limit of 20 tons, established when the structure was in a much newer condition?

Wayne Nguyen, who is coordinating the bridge replacement project for the DCNR, acknowledges that there has been "some section loss" and that the "deterioration is probably on the deck itself."  While it's true, he says, that the main "beams of the bridge are rusted, there's not a lot of section loss."

When asked about the apparent corrosion of supports attached to the beams, Nguyen said, "The sidewalk has been closed.  We usually inspect every two to three years, but the engineers recommended that we inspect every year."

He said that inspectors from Raudenbush Engineering, Inc. examined the bridge this year and determined that the 20 ton limit was "okay."

When asked if it might be prudent to lower that limit or redirect some traffic, particularly school buses, one block in order to ensure the safety of schoolchildren, Nguyen replied "I'm not sure how much a school bus weighs; unless it weighs more than 20 tons, the bridge should be able to handle it."

In addition to large trucks and tour buses, buses from at least two area schools pass over the Ferry Street Bridge twice a day.

According to WikiAnswers, the "average, 38', 84 passenger school bus weighs in between 11 and 14 Tons (22,000 to 28,000 pounds) curb weight without passengers. When you add 84 passengers, say high school students, that can add up to 14,700 additional pounds in weight, bringing the total up to about 42,700 pounds."

Admittedly, some of the buses using the bridge may weigh less than the average figure quoted, and perhaps the images of a flaking, peeling and corroding bridge depicted above can be explained away by those with an engineering background, unlike this reporter.

But the question remains: are drivers and passengers, especially schoolchildren, being unnecessarily put at risk? 

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