By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
SHENANGO VALLEY —
As part of the Kelly Road Bridge replacement project, Rod Alexander is hoping Hermitage will build a sidewalk from the bridge to the Mahaney Recreation Area.
The request caught city officials off guard, and Alexander is arguing safety concerns that a city official said have not been raised by anyone but Alexander.
“I’m not aware of any need for a sidewalk in that area,” said City Manager Gary P. Hinkson, adding that the city does not have a residential sidewalk construction program.
Alexander also used inflammatory language in a letter to Hermitage commissioners that was uncalled for, two commissioners said.
Hermitage and Mercer County commissioners and Hermitage School Board members would violate the American with Disabilities Act and the civil rights of residents served by Kelly Road if a sidewalk is not built, Alexander said.
City commissioners would be treating the residents “Like the white Southerners acted towards African-Americans during the 1950s-1970s,” Alexander said.
“I have had a very difficult time understanding his comments,” city Commissioner Duane J. Piccirilli responded. “I don’t think the Hermitage board of commissioners has a history or has ever acted in a way that these charges would be made toward us. They’re out of line.”
“When I read that part of his long letter, I was offended on behalf of the board and personally,” said Commissioner William J. Moder III. “I don’t know how his frustration about an unsafe bridge not being preserved would lead to an unfounded personal attack on the board.”
The county-owned bridge is actually two spans, built years apart. The bridges cross the Shenango River with one end in Sharpsville and the other in Hermitage.
One of the spans is historic, an 1897 Parker or Camelback truss bridge that is closed to all motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
The second bridge, a one-laner built in 1967, is open to traffic but has a 30-ton weight limit.
Alexander and others had hoped the older bridge could be preserved and rehabilitated, but Alexander eventually agreed such an undertaking would be “cost prohibitive.”
Bridge advocates and Sharpsville officials are working on a plan to save sections of the old bridge and some support stones and display them in an extension of Canal Recreation Park along the river.
The borough received a state grant to help pay for acquisition of land for the park extension. Borough Manager Kenneth Robertson said he hopes the sale can close sometime this year, and a site plan would be developed afterward.
“We are moving forward as quickly as the process will allow it,” he said.
In a separate but related project, the borough has a federal grant to build a sidewalk on the south side of High Street from Walnut Street to the existing park.
“It’s a part of our long range plan,” Robertson said.
If Sharpsville can get a grant to build a sidewalk, why can’t Hermitage? Alexander asked.
Alexander has asked that the city commit to building the sidewalk, which would be about one-third of a mile long, within three years of construction.
He said Hermitage school kids must walk down the road and cross the bridge to pick up the school bus as school buses are too heavy to cross the bridge.
The road is narrow and, especially in the winter, dangerous for kids to walk on when vehicles drive by, Alexander said.
School Superintendent Dr. Daniel Bell said three students pick up the bus on the Sharpsville side of the river. He said he was not sure if the kids walk down Kelly or their parents drive them to the bus stop.
Once the bridge is replaced, buses will cross the river and pick up any students by their homes, he said.
There have been discussions with parents in the past, but not recently, Bell said, and he compared the issue to dead end streets, where buses have no place to turn around.
Hinkson said no one, including residents and school officials, have registered any safety concerns with him about Kelly Road.
Alexander’s letter, received by the city July 3, was the first time anyone had mentioned a sidewalk to him, he said.