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PennDOT to turn Headquarters Road bridge over to Tinicum after all

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In yet another twist in the rollercoaster ride that has been Tinicum Township’s 11-year Headquarters Road bridge saga, PennDOT has changed course once again.

It is reportedly no longer refusing to turn back the bridge to the township unless all current and future litigation against the agency has ceased.

Township Solicitor Scott Holbert said he held a turnback conference call with PennDOT attorneys in late April. He reported PennDOT was clearly not ready to put its version of the bridge project out to bid.

“And, while they have not completed any litigation mediation agreements, the good news is they do seem to wish to proceed with the bridge turnback, once again changing their position, regardless of settlements of their personal litigation with the parties involved,” Holbert said.

He added he believed the Delaware Riverkeeper Network had agreed to settlement terms in a deal to be finalized June 28.

Supervisor Richard Rosamilia asked if they must wait for landowner Steve Gidumal to reach a settlement with PennDOT as well, but Holbert stated emphatically, “No. Regardless of any settlement, PennDOT is moving ahead with the bridge turnback.”

The township is waiting for the final PennDOT agreement draft to be delivered for board consideration “by the end of May,” according to the solicitor.

Supervisor John Cole quipped, “That is quite the change from last month.”

While waiting for the turnback draft, township engineer Curt Genner said he has been moving forward, submitting the site plan and rehabilitation project plan to the state Department of Environmental Protection. An architectural and structural contract with Virginia-based McMullan & Associates was inked last month.

Genner stated he preferred to wait for the signed PennDOT turnback agreement before making the actual easements submission.

“There are already easement permits issued for the PennDOT project. So, the township does not yet have the main interest on the bridge to properly make our application,” said Genner, who added he felt it would be better to wait.

With the architectural and structural engineer contracts already in place, he had no concerns that waiting would add time to the project.

“Planning is approximately nine months. Permitting is expected to take much less time,” he concluded.

Chairwoman Eleanor Breslin disagreed with Genner’s strategy.

“Despite my fellow board members and the solicitor’s comfort with Curt’s sequencing, I feel it is important to apply for the easements before executing the turnback agreement.”

Genner responded, “I can make a duplicate easement submission, but they already have a duplicate submission on file from PennDOT and may refuse to process it. It would be more clean to have the agreement in hand, and then we have a basis to make the submission on behalf of the township.”

Breslin asked if PennDOT had considered notifying the DEP about “the mootness of their permit application.”

Solicitor Holbert said he had not discussed that point with PennDOT, “but obviously once we get the agreement back, it becomes clear PennDOT is abandoning their project and turning it over to Tinicum with no need to continue to pursue any further permitting.”

It was decided they would revisit this issue at the next meeting, if necessary.

Discussion then shifted to a 30-inch drainage relief pipe under the existing bridge structure. Rosamilia raised concerns about whether Tinicum would be responsible for future pipe ruptures from erosion such as occurred during recent 500-year flood conditions.

“Will they be designing this bridge to avoid it being taken out by more severe flooding situations?” he asked.

Genner said the bridge was not being rehabilitated for the next 500-year flood, rather the chosen plan in place would stabilize the erosion, and the pipe will be put back in line with what is currently there.

“We are not elevating the road as it would potentially interfere with site distance,” he said.

“So the bottom line is,” continued Rosamilia, “if another major flood happens after bridge turnback, it will be the township’s responsibility. That is my concern.”

Resident Anita Nolan voiced her concerns about restoring the bridge back the way it was.

“It’s gonna happen again! Don’t we want a bigger pipe or a lower road or something to improve it rather than keep it as is?” she asked.

Genner explained, “It can be designed a number of different ways, but any structural and elevation changes are going to be a major new undertaking, with flood studies and new requirements adding an enormous amount of time to the permitting process.”


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