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Case Study - Pennsylvania

After Mistaken Bridge Demolition, FHWA and PennDOT Commit to Rehabilitate Marsh Road Bridge and to Funding for Historic Quaker Bridge in Crawford County

The Mercer Pike Bridge, accidently demolished in 2012 (photo by Nathan Holth,historicbridges.orgIn 2012, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) replaced the Mercer Pike Bridge carrying State Route 2003 over the Conneaut Outlet in Mercer County, Pennsylvania. The single-span, wrought iron pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge, built in 1888, was described as having a "beautiful and unique portal" and possibly the only existing example of its kind remaining in Pennsylvania (see A Letter of Agreement (LOA)* signed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), and PennDOT required rehabilitation of the Mercer Pike Bridge and for PennDOT to move it to a different road which carried less traffic to make room for a new, wider bridge on SR 2003. When the PennDOT contractor began dismantling the bridge, they discovered that the bridge was in worse structural condition than had been realized. PennDOT had known that this was a possibility, and the LOA stipulated that if the condition of the bridge was such that it could not be rehabilitated to carry vehicular traffic, it should be marketed for adaptive reuse.  However, this stipulation in the LOA was not carried out, and PennDOT made the decision to demolish the structure. The National Register-eligible bridge was demolished without consulting with the FHWA or SHPO, resulting in a violation of the LOA and an unanticipated adverse effect.

* The FHWA Statewide Programmatic Agreement for Pennsylvania, executed in 2010, allows PennDOT to streamline the resolution of adverse effects on non-controversial projects by executing a Letter of Agreement (LOA) with FHWA and SHPO, then filing it with the ACHP. No notice of Adverse Effect or invitation to the ACHP is needed for these cases.

Upon learning of the loss of the Mercer Pike Bridge, FHWA contacted consulting parties, SHPO, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), and invited their participation in consultation to determine appropriate actions to address PennDOT's failure to carry out its commitments under the Section 106 LOA. With input from Crawford County, SHPO, and other consulting parties, FHWA and PennDOT decided to compensate for the loss by rehabilitating an alternate wrought iron pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge, the Marsh Road Bridge, and to implement measures to ensure that incidents such as the accidental demolition do not occur in the future. The agreement to do the work was documented in a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). If rehabilitation of the Marsh Road Bridge cannot be done to meet the Secretary of the Interior's Standards or meet the transportation needs of the facility, the MOA requires FHWA to consult with parties that participated in consultation (see below) to find another appropriate candidate bridge for rehabilitation. Under the MOA, PennDOT also commits to spending up to $25,000 to survey and subdivide property adjacent to the Historic Quaker Bridge in Mercer County, and to contribute $56,000 to the Historic Quaker Bridge Foundation for the purchase of a piece of land adjacent to the Quaker Bridge.

The Historic Quaker Bridge (photo by Nathan Holth,   ( historic Quaker Bridge is another pin-connected, Pratt through truss that was threatened with demolition due to a new bridge being constructed on new alignment downstream. It was saved and is now owned and managed by the Foundation. Detailed drawings of the Mercer Pike Bridge, have been prepared and will be offered to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) Archives and the Crawford County Historical Society. Four cast iron portal braces from the demolished bridge will also be offered to local historical societies or museums for public display. Remaining pieces of the bridge will be donated to experts working with historic wrought iron and steel for scholarly and research purposes.

Consulting parties for the MOA included the signatories to the earlier LOA (FHWA, PennDOT, and SHPO), the Historic Quaker Bridge Foundation, Crawford County, the Historic Bridge Foundation, Nathan Holth of, and the ACHP. The ACHP joined the consultation because of the unusual circumstances and procedural concerns after the Mercer Pike Bridge was demolished.

The MOA documents PennDOT's commitment to compensation for the loss of the Mercer Pike Bridge, and its failure to consult with FHWA, and SHPO before demolition. While the loss of this bridge was unfortunate, the executed MOA documents PennDOT's commitment to make up for the mistake, to improve communication, and to take steps to ensure implementation of its historic preservation commitments. With FHWA, PennDOT took a collaborative approach to addressing this loss, resulting in the salvage of portions of the Mercer Pike Bridge, rehabilitation of the Marsh Road Truss Bridge (which was not previously scheduled for rehabilitation), and financial assistance to the Historic Quaker Bridge Foundation. The final MOA was signed by FHWA, PennDOT, SHPO, the Historic Quaker Bridge Foundation, the Crawford County Commissioners, the Historic Bridge Foundation, and Nathan Holth. It went into effect upon the ACHP's signature on June 4, 2014.

Click here to see a copy of the MOA.

Updated August 20, 2014

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