Requests were made for Luzerne County Council to consider building an entirely new Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge instead of partially replacing the current one as recommended by the county’s outside engineer.
But council Vice Chairman Brian Thornton promptly pointed out that another $9 million would have to be found if a majority chooses a new bridge. The county has access to $55 million from casino gambling revenue, and a full replacement would cost $64 million based on the engineer’s estimate.
“That’s money we don’t have. So you could say, ‘Yeah, that’s a great alternative. Let’s build it.’ But then we don’t have the money to pay for it,” Thornton said during a council work session about the options last week.
In comparison, the partial replacement recommended by Alfred Benesch and Associates would cost an estimated $39.6 million. The company was hired to complete a study of the county-owned span over the Susquehanna River and determine the “best and most economical option.”
The third option — rehabilitating the existing bridge — would cost an estimated $47.8 million, Benesch said.
Constructed in 1914, the 1,922-foot bridge was last rehabilitated in 1987. It links Nanticoke and the West Nanticoke section of Plymouth Township at Route 11.
An average 6,700 vehicles travel over the bridge daily, Benesch said.
County officials are exploring options because the span was downgraded to a 15-ton weight limit in 2020 due to issues found in an inspection.
Newport Township Manager Joseph Hillan has said a new bridge would accommodate commercial development on approximately 3,000 acres. He has expressed confidence development will come whether or not Houston, Texas-based Nacero Inc. proceeds with a project it had announced to build a $6 billion fuel plant.
Speaking during last week’s council meeting, Hillan said he was urging council on behalf of township commissioners to choose the full replacement bridge option.
Hillan told council the South Valley Parkway originally was supposed to extend into Newport Township but was cut short.
“This is the last chance to get to that land — a full bridge replacement,” Hillan said.
Nanticoke Fire Chief Mark Boncal also told council members he hoped they would look at full replacement of the bridge.
New infrastructure and warehouses are popping up in the Nanticoke and Newport Township area, and a full bridge replacement would be in line with the growth, Boncal said.
Boncal also reiterated his city fire department provides primary fire/rescue coverage to Plymouth Township’s West Nanticoke area and “can’t afford to have any more weight reductions on this bridge.”
He noted Nanticoke has a new fire engine on order, and apparatus manufactured today is heavier than in the past.
Former longtime Plymouth Township Supervisor Gale Conrad, who now works as a consultant, told council she concurs with Hillan and Boncal.
Conrad cited a bus company statistic indicating school buses make a total 30 trips over the bridge daily between Nanticoke and West Nanticoke.
“We’re hoping you all will do the right thing and replace over repair,” Conrad said.
County Councilman Harry Haas said the additional cost for a bridge replacement is a “pretty heavy lift” and suggested those speaking consider getting involved in seeking more funding.
Prior county engineer Lawrence Plesh had said in 2022 that the administration applied for a Bridge Investment Program grant through the Federal Highway Administration, which would require a county match. The county was unsuccessful at that time.
Thornton said he would never be in favor of borrowing additional funds for the bridge because the county is on a path to get out of debt.
County Manager Romilda Crocamo told council members the administration will exhaustively research all possible state and federal funding to help council in its decision on how to proceed — including applying for another Bridge Investment Program grant before the March deadline.
Councilman Jimmy Sabatino verified with Benesch that including federal funds in the mix could increase the cost and extend the completion due to federal regulatory requirements.
A synopsis of the state of the bridge and three options based on information Benesch representatives presented last week:
The bridge has 24 spans — three trusses extending over the Susquehanna and 21 shorter approaching spans of pre-cast concrete. The trusses have been deteriorating, leading to weight posting reductions, and are considered “fracture critical,” which means failure of one of the main connections would lead to catastrophic bridge failure.
Aside from structural issues, Benesch said the current bridge roadway width is a narrow 21 feet and should be 32 feet under current design standards. Larger vehicles making right turns from the bridge onto Route 11 in Plymouth Township also must swing into the oncoming Route 11 traffic lane, creating a potential safety risk.
• Option 1 — rehabilitation ($47.8 million, 3.1 years to complete)
This would rehabilitate the three trusses, replace the beams and deck on the 21 approaching spans and repair existing piers and abutments.
This option won’t make the bridge wider or address the concern about larger vehicles turning right on Route 11.
Benesch largely did not recommend this option because there could be “unknowns” addressing deteriorated pin connections. Severe rusting on pins makes it difficult for inspectors to assess the underlying condition.
• Option 2 — partial replacement ($39.6 million, 2.6 years)
Benesch is recommending this option.
It would replace the three truss spans with four new steel bridge spans on new piers, replace the beams and deck on the 21 approaching spans and repair existing piers and abutments.
With this option, the bridge would be widened to 32 feet and equipped with an added right turning lane onto Route 11. These additions could accommodate potential future industrial development in the area of the bridge.
The top of piers would be widened to support extra beam lines needed for the wider deck.
The truss replacement section would require four piers instead of three. To prevent increased flooding due to river flow obstruction, two smaller piers would be removed elsewhere on the bridge, which would slightly reduce the flood risk.
• Option 3 — completely new bridge in a new alignment west of the existing bridge ($64 million, 3.3 years)
The new bridge would have concrete beams, be wider and provide a turning lane onto Route 11.
Its new footprint would eliminate a bend in the bridge path and soften a curve where the bridge begins on Broadway Street on the Nanticoke side.
A new bridge also would prevent traffic disruption because the current span could remain open to traffic during construction. Temporary closure of the bridge would be necessary for the other two options.
After reviewing many factors, Benesch concluded partial replacement should be recommended. That option costs millions of dollars less and could be completed faster, company representatives said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.