UDC endorses rehabilitation of Skinners Falls Bridge

By LINDA DROLLINGER
Posted 4/7/21

NARROWSBURG, NY — At its April 1 meeting, the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) voted unanimously (minus one abstention) to recommend rehabilitation of the 1902 Baltimore truss bridge connecting …

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UDC endorses rehabilitation of Skinners Falls Bridge

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NARROWSBURG, NY — At its April 1 meeting, the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) voted unanimously (minus one abstention) to recommend rehabilitation of the 1902 Baltimore truss bridge connecting Skinners Falls, NY and Milanville, PA.

“This structure looks natural in its setting. It’s part of the area’s environment and character. Anything else would be out of place,” said UDC Chair and Damascus Township Representative Jeff Dexter of the bridge assigned to the National Register of Historic Places. Dexter grew up within walking distance of the bridge, on the New York side. Although he now resides on its Pennsylvania side, the bridge has been a constant in his life, an integral part of daily travel and leisure and an icon of the landscape he calls home.

UDC Executive Director Laurie Ramie added, “Of the three options available for the bridge—rehabilitation, replacement or abandonment—the last was never viable. We need a river crossing at Skinners Falls.”

The question, then, was whether to rehabilitate the single-lane, wooden-plank-deck bridge that can no longer support vehicles larger than a standard car or pickup truck, or to replace it with a bridge capable of supporting larger, heavier vehicles, such as delivery trucks, ambulances, fire trucks and buses.

With hospitals containing Medivac heliports on both sides of the bridge (Grover M. Hermann Hospital, a unit of Garnet Health, on the New York side and Wayne Memorial Hospital on the Pennsylvania side), ambulance traffic is a matter of life and death, as is the transport of firefighters and their equipment.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), lead agency for the bridge project, has identified five criteria to be weighed in determining the bridge’s fate: emergency response, economic importance, historic value, roadway connectivity and long-term functionality. The last is, to some, the most important. For much of the 21st century, the bridge has been closed for repairs. No sooner is it reopened than new structural defects are discovered to be safety hazards, the last of which happened in October 2019. The bridge has been closed to both vehicular and foot traffic ever since.

PennDOT has engaged a firm of consulting engineers, AECOM, to weigh the importance of various factors to community stakeholders. To accomplish that objective, AECOM has developed a brief survey about past and future uses of the bridge. It is available to stakeholders both online and in paper format. Not only is the survey designed to gauge the relative importance of each of the criteria listed above, but it solicits additional commentary as well. Stakeholders are encouraged to take the survey and provide original ideas, suggestions and concerns. The online survey is available on PennDOT’s website at www.bit.ly/3umwibb. A paper survey form is available by calling the project hotline at 610/234-5148 or, via email at skinnersfallsbridge@aecom.com.

In addition to survey results, stakeholder needs and wants are being sought from a Project Advisory Committee (PAC) comprising local government officials, regulatory agencies and local planning experts. Among PAC representatives are Damascus Township Supervisors Joe Canfield and Steve Adams, Town of Cochecton Supervisor Gary Maas, UDC Executive Director Laurie Ramie, Wayne County Commissioner Brian Smith and Sullivan County Planning Director Freda Eisenberg. Each of those individuals represents not only their own organization or municipality but also all of its constituents. The public is invited to share its questions, concerns and suggestions with PAC representatives, too.

Skinners Falls campground owner Rick Lander did; he asked Laurie Ramie if there wasn’t a better, more attractive way to prevent entry onto the closed bridge than ugly, intimidating orange “closed” signs surrounded by a hill of dirt.

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Steven Ircha

Additional Historical Information:

The current deed for the land surrounding the historic Milanville Bridge states very clearly the wishes of the Milton Skinner family.

The Skinners owned the home and land surrounding the bridge they built. When the Skinner family sold the bridge, they presciently inserted into the deed a clause that states that the existing bridge should stand as is and if necessary, repairs to the existing bridge could be made. There is a right of reversion in the deed that states that if the existing bridge is no longer used, the property surrounding the bridge reverts back to the owners of the property. The Skinners did this to retain the beauty of the area. They knew that in the future, a bigger unattractive bridge would simply make the area less beautiful and they knew that the increase in traffic would cause accidents with bicyclists, pedestrians, and those gaining access for swimming and boating. Any proposal to replace the bridge would therefore not be possible unless agreed to by the current owners of the property which is Steven & Jane Ircha. The Ircha family has made it clear that they will not agree to a new bridge as they want the current historical bridge rehabilitated. The Itcha family has made it clear that the safety of residents, pedestrians, bicyclists, swimmers and boaters must be protected by having only a simple one lane bridge. Anything more would cause deaths and injury caused by more traffic and larger vehicles accessing the bridge if it were changed or enlarged. Any arguments that a bigger bridge is need for emergency vehicles is simply not valid as in all the last 30 years or so that the Ircha family has owned this property, they have rarely seen an emergency vehicle on this bridge. However, larger vehicles and more traffic will certainly cause more accidents and deaths to those using roads leading to the bridge

Wednesday, April 21
Steven Ircha

What is Milanville In For

Let me begin by stating that rehabilitating the current Milanville Bridge ( known to many 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