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Historic Tinicum bridges continue to drive township meetings

Board is pressed to take a stand on preservation


In anticipation of the PennDOT’s Golden Pheasant Bridge National Historic Preservation Hearing held Oct. 20, the board of supervisors received well over 35 opinion emails from residents.

Since the October meeting was open only to consulting parties, the community was concerned that the board express a uniform voice that would represent the township’s majority opinion.

Vice Chair Jim Helms reminded attendees there will be a public meeting held in December. “After this historic preservation hearing, we will have learned PennDOT’s ideas and clear preferences. It will be interesting to see what they have to say, especially considering the Golden Pheasant Inn’s location and parking limitations.”

Resident Cyndi Gasparre commented, “We already know what PennDOT wants – a two-lane, realigned bridge that will favor truck traffic. The township should not lay back, rather we must have a real opinion to voice. We want to preserve our township’s unique character; PennDOT is seeking more federal funds.”

Dr. Richard Balukas stressed that “this meeting on the 20th is exclusively historical in nature. Therefore, the board must emphasize this crucial element and not the numerous safety and truck traffic concerns. This is going to be a long process with vast implications to our community.”

Member Eleanor Breslin requested all three board members sit together in the Municipal Building for the Zoom-only meeting. All agreed to take the meeting jointly.

Township historian Kathy Auerbach has been compiling a detailed portfolio providing sensitive data on historical impacts to Tinicum. “The Golden Pheasant Inn predates the canal,” she said. “The inn was designed and situated based upon existing features in the direct vicinity such as homes and parking areas. Any change in alignment here will impact existing historical sites.”

Auerbach stressed that the highest priority in the bridge discussions must be its historical preservation. “You took an oath of office to sustain our historic township. If we chip away at its integrity, these historic sites will all disappear.”

Resident Bill Hamlin expressed incredulity that this struggle has come so far. “It does not take a brain surgeon to see that truck traffic will destroy the whole area.”

Chairman Richard Rosamilia explained that River Road is a PennDOT road, not the property of the township. “We will do everything in our power to be careful in how we approach this. After PennDOT’s 2018 repairs, the bridge abutments and substructure should be in good shape.”

When asked “Does the board of supervisors’ opinion carry weight here?” the chair responded, “Some, but not a heck of a lot. We are not the ultimate decision makers, though we will have the opportunity to present.”

Other concerns were raised that there would be minutes distributed, but no audio tape or transcript of the meeting itself. Should there be a need down the road for use in potential litigation, it was decided the township would investigate hiring its own stenographer.

The community firmly pressed the Board as to what their position will be at the closed meeting.

Rosamilia favored some type of stop and go system for the existing structure; Helms preferred leaving the bridge as it is, with the addition of better guardrails, improved signage and updated GPS data; Breslin agreed with Helms regarding keeping the bridge as it is and in addressing truck traffic in general along River Road.

Luke Sorenson noted that New Jersey’s wider and straighter Route 29 is closed to all truck traffic. “This may be a part of the PennDOT pressure we’re feeling”.

Auerbach added that River Road, just like Route 29, was designated as a scenic highway as well as a National Heritage Corridor back in 1988.

It was also noted that, regardless of those impressive rankings, only PennDOT can legally designate the banning of trucks from any road they control.

News was more positive when discussion moved on to the Headquarters Road Bridge. The board moved to bring on a design engineer to consult with Tinicum Township’s engineer Steven Baluh of Wynn Associates, to help further determine rehabilitation options with the DEP.

Member Breslin announced to applause that these costs will be paid out of grant money received. Additional funding of up to $200,000 has also been approved, if needed, for a temporary bridge option and possible rehabilitation.

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