editorial

Exploring and restoring a river crossing

By LAURIE STUART
Posted 4/14/21

The public is being asked to weigh in on the fate of the Skinners Falls Bridge, the crossing between Cochecton, NY and Milanville, PA, which has been closed since October 2019.

There are three …

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editorial

Exploring and restoring a river crossing

Posted

The public is being asked to weigh in on the fate of the Skinners Falls Bridge, the crossing between Cochecton, NY and Milanville, PA, which has been closed since October 2019.

There are three options for the bridge, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), the lead agency on the project: rehabilitate the bridge, take it down and build another, or remove it entirely. The last option is not one that is actively being considered.

Between the other two possibilities, rehabilitation or replacement, there are options and variations.

The bridge—a one-lane wooden deck Brooklyn Truss bridge that is on the historic register—could be slated for an initial rehab project, which would reopen the structure to its previous four-ton weight limit and cost just over $5 million. A full rehabilitation would reopen it to a 10-ton weight limit at a cost just over $14 million. On the replacement side, the structure could be replaced with a steel beam and concrete bridge that can handle legal loads (40 tons) and cost $8.7 million. Or, for a more aesthetically pleasing, historic-looking option, it could also be replaced with a new arch or other signature bridge for an estimated $13.4 million.

A public process to determine the best course of action has begun. The process is expected to take two years.

This is the fifth Upper Delaware bridge that has been restored or replaced in the last 35 years. On the preservation side, the historic Roebling Aqueduct bridge, owned by the National Park Service, was rehabilitated and reopened as a one-lane suspension bridge in June 1986.

The Barryville-Shohola bridge, formerly a steel truss bridge, was demolished and replaced with a concrete bridge with steel beams in 2007.

The Pond Eddy Bridge, originally a one-lane steel truss bridge built in 1905, was replaced with a 22-foot wide truss bridge, which was completed in 2018. The design replacement of that bridge was a long negotiation that ended in a compromise that replaced the old truss bridge with a relatively similar-looking bridge with a weight capacity of 40 tons. That negotiation was due to citizens who organized a “Save the Pond Eddy Bridge” coalition. The protests caught the attention of politicians in New York State, which prompted the New York Department of Transportation (NYDOT) to renegotiate the deal with PennDOT, the lead agency in the bridge replacement.

The Narrowsburg–Darbytown Bridge, an arch-under bridge spanning the Delaware River that connects Pennsylvania’s Route 652 with New York’s Route 52, was refurbished in 2018.

In the near future, the 70-year old Cochecton-Damascus Bridge will be rehabilitated, and the Callicoon-Damascus bridge, built in 1962, has been noted as needing repairs.

All in all, the Upper Delaware region is dependent on its bridge crossings. It is a positive thing that these important infrastructure components, which are in great need of repair, are being considered and explored for transportation needs and for their unique cultural heritage. Different decisions and different outcomes have occurred with each bridge.

In this individualized exploration of bridge crossings lies a great opportunity and community process. And as the Pond Eddy Bridge indicates: the better the process, the better the outcome.

So far, the public process has been less than ideal. A public Zoom meeting on March 30 left some residents and members of an advisory committee with the impression that there is a bias for complete replacement of the structure. There are complaints that the public comment period—originally scheduled to end on April 23, now extended to April 30—is not enough time.

Ideal or not, this exploration is just the beginning, and there is a civic responsibility to be informed and to participate. With active and respectful community engagement, the outcome will be enhanced.

To that end, it is the responsibility of all of us, especially those who are publicly advocating for one option over another, to represent our position with context and accurate information.

While it’s easy to rile people up, to insult or insinuate that only one option is viable, the community needs to consider this exploration an opportunity to connect the historic culture and significance of this region to an emerging future. Our demographic is changing with an influx of migration to this region. There are emergency management considerations. There are historic preservation and tourism realities to factor in.

At its best, it is an opportunity for community building and creative problem solving. Challenging as it is, the process has the capacity to connect community stakeholders with varying ideas of how to maintain the connection between the Town of Cochecton, NY and Milanville, PA to speak with each other and to negotiate an appropriate bridge crossing solution.

Some will advocate that the decision depends on the cost of the replacement or rehabilitation. Some will argue that the weight limit needs to be 40 tons to accommodate all traffic. Some will advocate that the finances of maintaining the original bridge will add positive historic and tourism value, which will exceed the additional monies that will be spent on aesthetic or preservation considerations. Most of our arguments will be based on our own definition of progress and how the area is best served.

Let us be respectful and careful in our arguments, accurate in our explanation of our set of facts, and understand that we all have a particular bias based on our values.

Let us use this public exploration as a bridge that connects us as a diverse community of thought to a vibrant community of connection.

Comments

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Steven Ircha

Lets Rehabilitate the Existing Beautiful Historic Skinners Falls Bridge!!!!

If not, what is Milanville In for???

Let me begin by stating that rehabilitating the current Milanville Bridge ( known to most of us as the Skinners Falls Bridge ) is a significantly better idea than replacing the bridge for many reasons.

On a practical level, one must do a simple search on Google for Bridge Project Cost Overruns to find out that replacing the Milanville Bridge instead of rehabilitating it will be a much more expensive undertaking than we may be led to believe.

In many instances of new bridge construction around the country, contractors constructing new bridges site 1) huge cost overruns and 2) other unforeseen engineering issues that delay completion of the overdue project and add millions more to the cost. One may find that the cost estimates of new unsightly bridges may actually cost significantly more than an aesthetically pleasing rehabilitation of the existing bridge.

One reads of all too many stories whereby those in the trenches state that their projects turned out to be the “worst managed” and “most bureaucratic bungled” projects they have encountered.

Once construction begins, communities are held hostage to complete these projects that have already started. After sometimes years of delays with the associated bridge closing during this time, communities are stuck trying to get these issues resolved. Where is the extra money going to come from? Many feel that the resources would have been better off placed in new ambulances, firetrucks and health care facilities in the area. The millions should have been left locally. Instead, the contractors and engineers made all the money.

Often times huge delays occur because contractors stop work until they can get paid for the “additional work” that they have encountered. They can claim that the engineers did not adequately take into account soft soil in the river, delays caused by law suits filed by environmental groups, bad weather, interference by recreational users of property near the construction, etc. Contractors then can walk away from the project until the “issues get resolved” Yes, the issues mean more money. Where will that come from. Project delays can take years to resolve.

We’ve all read of projects that have experienced these myriad of problems, including a shortfall of anticipated funds, that then go through new comprehensive reviews to determine ways to rescue the bridge project from sinking. Who suffers? We do. Delays can take years and millions more have to be found. Sometimes the monies are not found. What then?

This all underscores the foolishness of initiating a project without fully understanding what it’s going to really cost and how to pay for it when things inevitably go wrong. We’ve all read of contractors claiming that a bridge construction could drag on for years because of fundamentally flawed” design problems and unreasonable demands for construction methods.

Often times additional funds must be found to improve the roads leading up to the bridge. This leads to more delays and significant disruption to the local community. These additional improvements generally were not included in the cost estimates of the bridge. Afterall, these are not “bridge expenses”, these are “local road expenses” they say.

We’ve also read of arguments between contractors and engineers disputing who is to blame for disputed design problems and cost overruns. Do we want to be involved in all this?

Headlines like those below could be in our future if we allow a new bridge to be constructed instead of simply rehabilitating what we have now. “Despite cost overruns and years of delays, engineering firm states that they have full confidence in our design of the bridge,” . “Despite cost overruns and years of delay, multiple independent reviewers have confirmed the suitability, structural integrity and constructability of the design. “Despite cost overruns and years of delay, minor design clarifications are typical on complex projects”. “Contractors claim that an unusually high number of change orders have occurred during construction of this project causing cost overruns and years of delays”. “Latest grievance involves a change in procedure for removing bridge forms, similar to scaffolding, that is potentially is dangerous for construction workers and could extend the project by as much as six months or more and cost another few million dollars.“ What was supposed to be a 2.5-year project is now in its fifth year,” .

In conclusion, I believe it is best to rehabilitate the beautiful historic bridge that we have. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.

Thursday, April 22
Steven Ircha

Save our Children and Stop Being Elitist !!!

The Skinners Falls bridge should remain a low weight low-density use bridge. From Memorial Day to Labor Day of each year,

tens of thousands of campers camp on the New York upstream side of the Skinners Falls bridge. These campers are families that bring

with them an army of children. These children wander around the campground, buy ice cream in the store, walk across the bridge to the Milanville General Store for snacks and then walk across the road going to the Skinners Falls Bridge to get to the other side of the bridge to swim on the downstream side of the bridge by the big rock or further down by the rapids. Do we really need more traffic and larger trucks to potentially run one of our children over? Of course not.

Anyone who advocates for a higher weight limit bridge bringing in more and heavier and more dangerous vehicles is simply not familiar with all the children who will be at risk crossing the road and walking across the bridge. Some people say we need a higher capacity bridge for emergency vehicles. I think this is nonsense. Pa emergencies are generally handled by emergency service workers on the Pa. side. New York emergencies are generally handled by emergency service workers on the NY side. In the 55 years, I've been in this area, I don't recall ever seeing emergency service vehicles crossing the bridge. However, if you make a higher weight limit higher density use bridge, I can guarantee that there will be injuries and fatalities caused by the new traffic coming in and striking our young children campers. This is not conscionable. It is also elitist. The powers that be would not be suggesting a higher weight limit, high use bridge if this bridge was located near a fancy private golf club or country club. This is simply elitist and a display of privilege. After all, most of the campers are from the newest set of immigrants coming into the country. They can't afford private country clubs or private golf clubs. Let us make a safe place for these immigrant families too. We need to be a little more woke on this issue.

Monday, May 3