Studying Skinners Falls

Posted 7/5/22

MILANVILLE, PA — The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has released a pair of documents about the reasoning behind the Skinners Falls bridge project.

The Skinners Falls …

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Studying Skinners Falls


MILANVILLE, PA — The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has released a pair of documents about the reasoning behind the Skinners Falls bridge project.

The Skinners Falls bridge has been closed since failing a safety inspection on October 16, 2019. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has spent the time since then conducting studies and surveys to inform an ultimate decision to repair or replace the bridge.

The most recent movement on the bridge involved a draft purpose and need document released on December 8, 2021. The document outlined the “purpose” with which the project is being pursued and the tangible transportation “needs” that the project will meet. The public was asked to comment on that document through a survey and an open public comment period.

Since June 16, PennDOT released a final version of the purpose and need document, edited to respond to the comments gathered during the survey period, plus a public comment response report going into detail about those comments.

What’s changed?

Much of the final purpose and need document matched the original.

PennDOT added detail in a few places, specifying that a majority of people used the bridge for work and for errands, and specifying weight limits for a few vehicles. A draft section discussing emergency response was broken in two, with one section specifying river rescue and the other focusing on fire and EMS response.

The fire and EMS section had major revisions specifying the weights of the vehicles that would need to use the bridge. It noted that the Lake Huntington Volunteer Fire Department would cross the bridge with a lightweight first response vehicle, while heavier equipment took an alternate route, and that the Narrowsburg Fire Department used the bridge with vehicles of 8.5 tons or less.

PennDOT made those changes in response to concerns that emergency needs would preclude the restoration of the bridge, according to the report on public responses. “Considering the original capacity of the bridge at nine tons, and assuming the bridge could be restored to that capacity, there are several classes of emergency response vehicles that could utilize a restored bridge. Therefore, it is possible to achieve the project purpose related to emergency response vehicles even when considering the original weight capacity of the bridge,” wrote PennDOT.

Members of the public throughout the Skinners Falls bridge project have requested that PennDOT take into consideration the bridge’s historic nature, and prioritize repairing the pre-existing bridge over building a new one. “Given the rarity of Baltimore truss bridges, its qualification for state and national recognition, the visitors it attracts, uniqueness of its ornamentation, and its perfect fit into the rural setting, we feel that historical and cultural significance easily rises to the level of a need for protection,” reads one such comment, written by Laurie Ramie, executive director of the Upper Delaware Council, discussing the purpose and need document in a letter published in the River Reporter.

The bridge’s weight capacity stood at nine tons; PennDOT’s originally identified needs for the bridge included categories of vehicles above that, leading to some concern that it was abandoning consideration of restoring the bridge.

PennDOT acknowledged that the purpose and need document lacked consideration of the bridge’s historic value. That value couldn’t be considered in such a document, the department wrote. “[The purpose and need document] cannot include a solution or indicate a particular action. Bridge preservation, while it may be considered, is a specific action. Therefore, historic bridge preservation cannot be included as a purpose or need component.”

The next step in the project would consider historic value, PennDOT added. A historic bridge rehabilitation analysis would be conducted, and would consider whether the bridge could be rehabilitated to meet project needs while keeping its historic qualities.

Responding to concerns that the bridge would not be restored, PennDOT wrote that it had not abandoned the thought of restoration. “[The purpose and need document] does not assume a solution and is not so focused that only one alternative can work. The rehabilitation alternative has not been eliminated.” In particular, PennDOT cited a table of emergency vehicle weights to reconcile rehabilitation and emergency needs.

PennDOT did defend the purpose and need document’s identification of a need for the bridge to allow traffic over 10 tons. Previous study had indicated that measures like weight postings and “headache bars” were inefficient in stopping illegal crossings; the risk of catastrophic failure from an overweight truck crossing the bridge, even if illegally, was “unacceptable.”

When is this happening?

The release of the purpose and need document does not by itself indicate immediate progress on the Skinners Falls bridge project.

The last official update on the project timeline came during a May 25 annual meeting of the New York-Pennsylvania Joint Interstate Bridge Commission, the organization that manages the bridges on the NY/PA border.

Officials at that meeting earmarked $2 million in funding for studies and preliminary engineering for the Skinners Falls bridge, and said that an expedited environmental clearance document could be available by the end of the year.

PennDOT did respond to comments requesting a timely resolution of the bridge’s closure, indicating that it was designing a “compact schedule” and was looking to “accelerate the project delivery process.” It did not further specify a timeline for the project’s completion.

Visit and see the “resources” panel on the right hand side of the screen to find the full purpose and need study and the full public comment response report.

Click here for more coverage of the Skinners Falls Bridge.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Skinners Falls-Milanville bridge, Skinners Falls bridge,


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