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Upper Makefield officials move to protect Washington Crossing Bridge


The Upper Makefield Township Board of Supervisors is pursuing an effort to get the Washington Crossing Bridge placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The initiative comes after township officials and residents say they were blindsided by reports that the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission is floating replacement of the narrow, 119-year-old, 15-foot-wide roadway bridge with a bigger, broader span.

At a public meeting Tuesday, supervisors approved spending up to $2,000 to have historical and preservation expert Jeffrey L. Marshall, former president of the Heritage Conservancy, conduct research to reconfirm the bridge’s eligibility to appear on the National Register.

Supervisor Chair Yvette Taylor shared that the bridge was previously deemed eligible in 1985, but the span was never added to the list. If Marshall’s research proves fruitful, as expected, the board would likely approve moving forward with applying to have the bridge placed on the register.

Why take such steps? In significant part, it’s to protect what officials say is the historical character of the bridge and limit the extent to which it can be changed. Much more rigorous standards must be met to alter structures on the National Register of Historic Places.

In another bridge-related move, supervisors passed a resolution — some five pages long — that, in part, criticizes the DRJTBC for failing to notify Upper Makefield it was considering what amounts to a potential rebuild of the Washington Crossing Bridge, which lets off and on in Pennsylvania in the Washington Crossing Village section of the township.

Washington Crossing Historic Park is on the National Register of Historic Places. The small, quaint village and park denote where Gen. George Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night en route to the Battle of Trenton during the Revolutionary War — a victory for the fledgling United States.

The resolution raises concerns that a big bridge overhaul — creating a much wider modern span — would wreak havoc on the historic character of Washington Crossing, exacerbate flooding issues, and have hazardous impacts on the environment, including threatening endangered species.

In the resolution, supervisors said they insist “on being provided all information regarding the need for a bridge replacement that is in the possession of the Toll Bridge Commission and that the township be consulted prior to any future discussions, deliberations and decisions regarding the bridge that is such an important part of our community.”

Several township residents spoke at Tuesday’s meeting. Joe Linus said he reviewed documents that suggest a new span could be as wide as 48 feet, up from the current total of 21 feet, he said. Linus favors creating a pedestrian bridge.

Resident Priscilla Linden indicated a limited widening of the bridge would be advantageous for emergency vehicle access, particularly for ambulances traveling to the nearest medical facility for locals. She also favors the idea of a wider bike path and reinforcing/repairing/reconstructing infrastructure like abutments, where needed.

Another resident who lives in the village of Washington Crossing suggested having the bridge designated to be mostly pedestrian but allowing access for emergency vehicles.

The current steel, double-Warren-truss Washington Crossing Bridge opened to traffic in 1905. It was constructed by the long defunct New Jersey Bridge Company of Manasquan and originally owned by the Taylorsville Delaware and Washington Crossing bridge companies.

The bridge has been publicly owned and operated without a toll since 1922. The commission has owned it since 1987.

In a statement, the commission has called the bridge “a bane to generations of motorists” due, in part, to its narrow width resulting in what was described as frequent minor fender-benders and broken sideview mirrors. An average of 7,200 vehicles crossed the bridge per day last year.

If a bridge upgrade were to occur, the goal would be to “improve mobility and provide a safe and reliable river crossing for vehicles and pedestrians,” the commission has said.

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