Newbie Seeks Funding to Repair Penn Street Bridge | news

NEW BETHLEHEM – An important bridge along Penn Street in New Bethlehem is in dire need of repair and district officials are working to find grants this summer.

The small stone arch bridge over Leasure Run on Penn Street between Vine Street and Keck Avenue has been badly hit by floods and floods in recent years, damaging several parts of its nearly 120-year-old span.

“We believe the bridge was installed in 1903,” councilor Sandy Mateer said recently. She stated that the July 2019 flood, along with other flood events thereafter, damaged the bridge near its base.

The northwest corner of the bridge’s foundation is partially eroded and mortar is seeping out of the stones that line the arch on the north side.

One salvation, Mateer said, is that the floods brought more debris into the creek area, diverting the water from the northwest corner towards the northeast wall.

“It helps a little because it directs the water onto this wall,” she said of the sturdier side.

Not only does the bridge connect the east and west sides of Penn Street for local residents, but the route is the only route for tractor units traveling to and from the JM Smucker peanut butter factory, which is just over a block away from the bridge. The road is also the main entrance to the Edgewood Heights Nursing Home and is used by the local emergency services.

Mateer said the district had briefed Smuckers on the situation.

She also said the county and its engineer will work to apply for a grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority, with the application due by the end of July.

Mateer noted that while work on the bridge has been done over the years, the recent storms appear to have been more than the old bridge could handle. She said that although Leasure Run looks like a small waterway, it was carrying large items, including a dumpster and part of an old truck, downstream and hit the stone walls of the bridge.

Other problems with the structure include leaks through the walls and ceiling inside the tunnel, as well as trees and other vegetation growth through the walls.

“We have to get rid of all the vegetation that is growing between the rocks and seal the mortar,” she said.

Mateer said the district’s engineer is expected to submit a full report on the bridge, along with cost estimates, ahead of the council meeting on July 20.

At the June group meeting, the council approved efforts to follow up the Commonwealth grant and other funding.

Council President Lisa Kerle also suggested contacting the Clarion County Commissioners to see if other funds are available.

Guys said if anything happened to the bridge, it would block access to the peanut butter factory.

Officials said they would seek support for their grant application from Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion) and Senator Scott Hutchinson (R-Oil City).

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