The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

July 21, 2010

Residents like plan to replace bridges

— PennDOT on Wednesday evening held a public meeting to display its plan to construct a new Strank Memorial Bridge that connects Franklin and East Conemaugh boroughs.

The nearby Locust Street Bridge in Franklin would no longer be necessary and would be eliminated. The new bridge would be T-shaped so that it connects the end of Locust and Main Streets on the Franklin side.

About 50 residents, business people and officials from both boroughs attended the meeting, held at St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church hall in East Conemaugh.

One abandoned structure in Franklin near the corner of Locust and Main Streets would have to be razed along with a building behind it that is owned by the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

Another building in Franklin at the corner of Franklin and Main Streets also would have to be removed to make room for the project, said Ralph DeStefano, bridge engineer for PennDOT’s District 9.

He said a vacant four-story hotel at the end of the Strank bridge in East Conemaugh and a vacant house next to it also would have to be removed.

“This will be vast improvement,” DeStefano said about the $16.7 million project.

The new bridge will be wider, 32 feet instead of the 22-foot width of the existing Strank bridge, he said. Turning movements will be much improved and motorists will not have to make two 90-degree turns in Franklin any longer, he said.

The new bridge also will have a five-foot wide sidewalk that will be handicapped accessible, he said. The existing sidewalk is not handicapped accessible.

Work is anticipated to start in early December with the pouring of the foundations for the piers and abutments, DeStefano said.

The project is anticipated for completion by the end of next year, he said.

Traffic will continue to use the existing bridges while the new bridge is being built, he said. There will be a six- to eight-week period at the end of the project when traffic will be limited to one lane so that workers can build the approaches for the new bridge, he said.

Ed Jones, project manager for the design consultant, L. Robert Kimball and Associates, Ebensburg, said stop signs will control traffic crossing in each direction from Franklin and East Conemaugh at the area when the T-shape is formed.

Traffic making right-hand turns at the new bridge will be able to keep moving, he said.

There is not enough traffic to warrant a traffic signal, he said.

Franklin Borough Council President Richard McNulty said the project is a great idea.

Franklin won’t see the heavy traffic that it sees now, he said.

The CamTran buses that serve Franklin and East Conemaugh will continue serving residents, he said.

Tom Birk of nearby Parkhill, retired owner of Birk Transfer in Parkhill, said the new bridge will be an asset to the trucking company now owned by his sons. He said the trucks will no longer have to traverse the narrow streets.

Michael Burkhart of Franklin likes the plans and the fact that the new bridge, just as the existing one, will bear the name of hometown hero Sgt. Michael Strank, one of the soldiers who raised the American flag over Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, during World War II.

“It will eliminate a dangerous curve on River Avenue at Locust Street in Franklin,” he said.

Randy James, co-owner of James Excavating and Trucking in Parkhill, said the new bridge will be a great improvement.

“We have struggled with it for 50 years,” he said about the current path that his large trucks have had to follow.

He said he also likes the idea that traffic could use the existing bridges during construction.

East Conemaugh Borough Councilman Bob Fisher described the project as a jewel.

“We waited a long time for this,” said Fisher, also a member of the Conemaugh Volunteer Fire Company. “It will be a lot better.”

Buck Naugle of East Conemaugh called the project a great idea and said that it also would improve the aesthetics of both towns.

Tony Kimmel, who lives just outside of East Conemaugh in East Taylor Township, said the new bridge will make the area safer for every motorist.

Dan Valentine, a railroad enthusiast from Cambria City, said he enjoys taking photos of trains traveling under the Strank bridge. With the existing bridge, he can only take head-on photos of trains. With the angle of the new bridge, more of a broadside shot will be possible, he said.

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