Last updated: June 12. 2014 1:48PM - 1248 Views
By - jandes@timesleader.com

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Luzerne County officials plan to tear down the Division Street Bridge bordering Hanover Township and Wilkes-Barre due to safety concerns.

The county-owned bridge over Solomon Creek was closed during 2011 flooding and never reopened for motorists, but the recent collapse of the bridge’s pedestrian walkway on the Wilkes-Barre side has raised concerns about people accessing the span.

County workers are installing safety fencing to stop pedestrians from crossing the bridge until the administration obtains and compares bids from contractors interested in handling the demolition, according to the county’s road and bridge office.

Hanover Township Commissioners sent a letter to county council members this week urging them to address the bridge, saying its structural integrity continues to “rapidly degrade.”

“The Township Board of Commissioners is concerned with this serious safety condition the presently endangers not only pedestrian traffic but also now poses an increased risk of widespread flooding during periodic high water events,” said the letter signed by commissioner Chairman Albert Bagusky.

The closure of the Division Street Bridge has forced more traffic onto the aging Oxford Street Bridge a block away.

It’s unclear if the cash-strapped county will replace the bridge.

The county owns 310 bridges, ranging from boxy concrete culverts over streams to about 80 spanning more than 20 feet. As of two years ago, about 50 of these bridges were labeled structurally deficient, which means they are considered safe for travel but need costly repairs or replacement to meet current standards. Many have weight limits for now.

The county ended up owning and maintaining most of its bridges during the Great Depression, when the court ordered a takeover because townships and municipalities didn’t have the financial means to take care of the structures.

Former county chief engineer Joe Gibbons has said the cash-strapped county must prioritize because funding is not available to cover all warranted bridge replacements. He has suggested eliminating non-essential bridges if there are multiple crossings over streams in a condensed area, which also would reduce waterway obstructions during flooding.

County Manager Robert Lawton has said all proposed and pending capital projects, including road and bridge repairs, will be evaluated by Tanis Manseau, who was hired as county operational services division head last month.

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