The Church Lane Bridge in Lower Macungie Township must remain closed, township commissioners learned Thursday night.
What they do not yet know is how long it must remain closed or even why it must remain closed.
PennDOT officials told 69News Friday that PennDOT's bridge engineer sent the township an email dated 12/20/12 highlighting the damage from the inspection, along with repair recommendations.
PennDOT also sent a copy of the complete report to Ryan Christman of Keystone Consulting Engineers, which is employed by Lower Macungie, on Wednesday, so the commissioners had all the information they needed before the meeting.
The small but heavily used one-lane bridge has been closed since spring. The township closed it because traffic on Church Lane increased significantly after the state closed a section of nearby Spring Creek Road to replace a bridge on that road. The Church Lane Bridge was closed to protect it from being severely damaged by too much traffic.
The bridge was supposed to reopen when the new Spring Creek Road Bridge was completed. But that didn’t happen when Spring Creek Road reopened late last month.
Some residents want to know why.
Township engineer William Erdman told commissioners a consultant working for the state Department of Transportation inspected Church Lane Bridge around Dec. 20. “The township had no knowledge the inspection was being done,” said Erdman.
Following that inspection, the township received an e-mail directive from PennDOT to not reopen that bridge because of unspecified concerns about it. “We don’t know what those concerns are,” said Erdman, because the township has not yet received an inspection report from PennDOT. “We don’t have the details, we don’t have the specifics.”
In the interest of public safety, Lower Macungie will not reopen the bridge until it knows exactly what is going on, said Erdman.
“Apparently they must have found some issues with the bridge that are compelling enough to say to the township ‘do not open the bridge until you address these maintenance or repair issues’,” Erdman explained.
“The decision has been made to leave the Church Lane Bridge closed until we get a chance to look at the report and work with the public works department -- and within whatever budget constraints there are -- to do whatever needs to be done with that bridge.”
PennDOT said the inspection report cites deterioration and rot damage to two timber beams: one on the middle row and one on the left row.
The wood bridge spans railroad tracks on Church Lane, which links Trexlertown and Lower Macungie roads. When it was closed, township manager Bruce Fosselman said repairing it could cost millions of dollars if it would be heavily damaged by too much traffic.
On Thursday, township commissioner James Lancsek said several people who live near the bridge have asked him why it is still closed. He said those people are saying the township dropped the ball by not inspecting that bridge during all the months it was closed.
“This should have been done while that bridge was closed,” agreed Erdman. “But the township had no control of that.”
“It wasn’t a township inspection,” said Lancsek.
Township commissioner Roger C. Reis said Lower Macungie officials should suggest to PennDOT that “the next time they should inspect a bridge a week after we close it rather than a week before we’re going to open it.
“They’ve had ample time and people have been inconvenienced for months.”