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Safety Concerns Shut Down Birdsboro Bridge: Borough Officials Are Surprised By the Order Closing the First Street Span.

July 30, 2008

By Rebecca Vandermeulen, Reading Eagle, Pa.

Jul. 30–Birdsboro officials knew the steel-grate bridge on First Street wasn’t in good shape, but they weren’t expecting to have to shut it down anytime soon.

They said that order came Tuesday after an annual safety inspection by a Pennsylvania Department on Transportation contractor.

The borough closed the First Street Bridge, which spans the Hay Creek between Cinder and Water streets, about 12:30 p.m.

“That was a nice surprise this morning,” Borough Council President James M. Arms Jr. said with a note of sarcasm.

First Street is a major thoroughfare in Birdsboro, and the bridge closure will likely push more traffic onto Route 724, also known as Main Street, Police Chief Theodore R. Roth said.

Pedestrians are still permitted to cross the bridge.

Roth said the open-grate bridge is rusting, partly because of trucks salting the road during winter. The Hay Creek also is prone to flooding.

“This bridge has been underwater or close to underwater quite a few times,” said Mark A. Drey, artistic director for the nearby Alpha/Omega Performing Arts Center.

PennDOT spokesman Ronald J. Young Jr. disputed that the order to close the bridge came from PennDOT. The bridge is borough-owned, he said, so inspectors working for the state can only make a recommendation.

But Borough Manager Karen T. Willman said she asked a PennDOT contractor what would happen if Birdsboro didn’t close the bridge. The reply, she said, was that PennDOT would shut it down.

Regardless, Willman said it would be irresponsible for Birdsboro to leave an unsafe bridge open to traffi c.

Arms agreed, alluding to the August 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis.

“If it’s unsafe, we don’t want another Minnesota incident on our hands, especially with a school bus full of kids,” Arms said.

Weight restrictions were previously put in place, and Birdsboro officials said a PennDOT contractor had recently warned that the bridge could soon be restricted to one lane.

The complete closure, residents said, will cause headaches for motorists.

First Street resident Sally A. Messner said Birdsboro is now cut in two. The street is a snowemergency route, she said, adding that fi re trucks, school buses and delivery trucks often pass her house.

“It’ll just take us a little longer to get to emergencies,” Roth said.

The borough hasn’t received a full report on what’s wrong with the bridge, so it’s unclear how much it will cost to repair or replace it.

“I would think we’re talking millions of dollars,” Arms said.

Willman has contacted state, county and federal governments in search of grants, but said the borough may have to borrow money for the project.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Reading Eagle, Pa.

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