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June 28, 2012

Span deteriorates as officials wait on ‘historic’ designation

GREENVILLE — While awaiting possible designation as an historic structure, the Ohl Street bridge in Greenville is slowly falling piece by piece into the Shenango River.

Mark Miller, head of the county’s bridge department, asked commissioners Wednesday morning to put up additional signs and barricades to prevent injuries while state officials take their time in deciding whether the bridge itself and the area around it – the former Bessemer Railroad – merits historical distinction by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Miller, who recently inspected the bridge, said he is concerned because people are hanging out under the span. “We saw some empty beer cans underneath it and that becomes a safety issue for people who are walking on the bridge or underneath it.”

The county has no trespassing signs erected, but Miller said some of those were stolen. He would like to see additional signs, some more fencing to close off the bridge and possibly increased police patrol.

County Commissioner Chairman John Lechner, exasperated by the length of time it is taking for the evaluation of the historical benefit, said, “Well, by the time they get around to it, it will be all over because it will have fallen into the river.”

Lechner also said the historical and museum commission bears no liability if someone gets hurt. “No, if that happens, it’s all on us,” he said.

County fiscal administrator John Logan, who lives in Greenville, said the closed bridge and three-year delay “is putting people at risk and holding the community hostage.” Logan said most bridge projects take about 18 months from design to construction.

Rather than trying to preserve the county’s historical bridges, Logan suggested building a park with a scaled down but working version of each bridge. “Then anyone who wants to see a particular type of bridge could come look at it and we could move forward with fixing it,” he said.

Commissioner Brian Beader said he has received calls from Greenville residents about how long the bridge has been closed. “We need to reach out to those residents and to the mayor and the council and let them know what’s going on with this.”

Greenville borough manager Jason Urey said his biggest concern with the closed bridge is the risk if something forces the closure of the Main Street bridge, now the only river crossing in town. “If there is an accident or something that shuts it down, then what?” He also said he was not aware that anyone had been trespassing on or under the Ohl Street bridge but would let patrolmen know.

“It’s an inconvenience for the people and it could become a safety issue, so we’d like it repaired or replaced as soon as possible,” Urey said.

The bridge was built in 1909 and in 2009 – exactly a century later – was closed for repairs or replacement. “At that time,” Miller said, “someone asked the state about possibly seeing if the bridge had some historical value and so that is included in this phase of the study.”

The projectPATH website, a state-run site that shows where the bridge is in that assessment, shows no activity since April 2010 when it indicates “yes” that reviews agree the bridge and the surrounding area have historical value.

Known as a Pratt-truss bridge, it was built with vertical pieces and diagonal pieces that slope toward the center. Invented in 1844, that type of bridge was practical for spans longer than 250 feet and was a common configuration for railroad bridges. Miller said all truss bridges have the potential to be designated as historic and noted the county has five different truss bridges.

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