KellytownBridge to the Past:

A Management Plan for Pennsylvania’s Historic Metal Truss Bridges

Planning and Truss Bridge Management

As noted earlier, the Truss Bridge Management Plan included an explicit effort to integrate historic truss bridge management with PennDOT’s existing transportation planning process aimed at better establishing transportation needs at particular crossings where historic metal truss bridges currently stand.  An honest and complete evaluation of those needs is critical to a determination of whether or not a bridge has rehabilitation potential for continued vehicular use at that location. Establishing and evaluating transportation needs requires a robust understanding of where a particular bridge fits in the larger context of a regional transportation network. That means addressing some important questions, for example:

  • What types of and how many vehicles use that crossing?
  • Where are the local and regional fire stations, and ambulance centers and hospitals located?
  • What do the known and planned local and regional school bus routes look like?
  • Do oversized and or very heavy vehicles such as farm equipment or quarry trucks use this crossing? Is it possible and reasonable, for those vehicles to use alternative routes?
  • What do local and regional land use plans project for current and planned growth in and around these bridges?  
The answers to these and other related questions help transportation planners evaluate specific needs at any and every bridge location. The existing planning process makes use of standardized evaluation tools known as “PennDOT Connects Screening Forms” to establish those needs.  The Historic Truss Bridge Management Plan employed both the bridge preservation assessments and the screening forms.

PennDOT Connects Screening Forms

Screening Forms serve as a transportation planning tool for proposals (potential future projects) being initiated by the MPO/RPO and for Asset Planning proposals from PennDOT. The completed forms help identify candidate projects for inclusion in a planning organization’s Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) and State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP).  They are the first step in the project delivery process. The form collects pertinent data for conceptual engineering and environmental screening and provides a problem description to enable better decision-making in the identification and advancement of alternative proposals. In addition, potential alternative solutions and estimated scope, budget, and schedule are identified and refined in the form.

Based on the data in the preservation assessments, in combination with information gathered during the planning phase of the management plan, PennDOT produced screening forms for those bridges that could benefit by this process.  Those forms established the transportation needs of the particular crossings. They inform stakeholders about the heritage value of these particular bridges and help promote the planning and implementation of project alternatives that contribute to their preservation, including the possibility of relocating an historic bridge for adaptive reuse, or reuse on a location where it can meet transportation needs.

The Historic Truss Bridge planning effort involved direct outreach to stakeholders including county or municipal bridge owners, MPOs and RPOs, historic preservation groups and advocates, and other stakeholders.  PennDOT held 27 meetings statewide to discuss over 80 historic metal truss bridges. Meetings with these stakeholders resulted in a valuable exchange of information.  Bridge owners learned about the history and significance of their bridges and gained insight on options for preservation and project advancement in the future.  PennDOT also collected information from local sources regarding issues and uses of the bridge crossing, as well as future plans for the bridge and/or crossing (to the degree known).  Adaptive reuse was also discussed, whether it be at a bridge’s current location or at a new location including potential pedestrian crossing needs in the region.  Additionally, outreach has been occurring, and will continue to occur, with other state agencies, such as DCNR and the SHPO, and with trail, preservation, and natural resource conservancies and nonprofit organizations to identify adaptive reuse opportunities at locations like trails and parks.  This effort will help insure that when projects move from planning to design, project designers have all the tools and options available to implement projects that maximize the preservation opportunities for historic truss bridges. 

As a result of these meetings over 30 historic metal truss bridges were identified as not capable of meeting the long term needs of these crossings, even with a sensitive rehabilitation, and were placed in PennDOT’s historic bridge marketing program.  PennDOT is proactively seeking adaptive reuse for these bridges and parties willing to assume ownership.   In some cases these bridges remain open to traffic with no plans to close the crossings except where the condition of the bridge deteriorates to where this is necessary, or in the event an adaptive use is identified.   The expectation of this program is that these bridges can be marketed for adaptive use much longer than they might if marketed as part of a project.  Experience has shown that the longer a bridge is marketed the more likely a party can be identified that needs a bridge of that particular type and length.  

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