Mercer County bridge engineer Mark Miller has answered more than his share of questions over the last five years about the Oakland Avenue Viaduct in Sharon.

Unfortunately for him, most of them focused on bad news relating to the long and unexpected delay of the bridge replacement.

He was more than willing to answer one more question about the span over Connelly Boulevard; this time it was good news.

“We’re glad it’s finally open,” Miller said after “bridge closed” signs were removed from the construction zone shortly before noon Thursday, although there was no fanfare to accompany it.

He said there will still be some cleanup work near the site for the next week or 10 days, but “everything that was required to be done in order to open the bridge has been completed.”

Miller even joked that his daughter Jennifer, who turned 22 on Thursday, thought the opening was timed to serve as a birthday present for her.

Well, happy birthday Jennifer and happy re-birthday to the viaduct, which last carried traffic in the early morning hours of March 26, 2001.

It was demolished three months later and the new bridge was expected to open that November. The project came to a halt, just 30 days before scheduled completion when it was discovered that a beam was misaligned. After years of disagreements on how to fix it, as well as more than two years of legal wrangling, it’s finally open.

Mayor Bob Lucas acknowledged the good news of the day.

“A great day for the city of Sharon,” he said. “It’s long overdue. This bridge is part of the future and that’s what we’re focusing on.”

City officials are planning a ribbon cutting, but no date was set as of Thursday.

It didn’t take long for neighbors and residents to take the walk or drive across the span.

While a few drivers cruised over the bridge without a thought about it, most were seen taking their time, wondering if it was OK for them to be there yet. One driver even threw his arms up in disbelief with a quizzical smile that he was actually driving over the freeway.

“It’s a glorious day now that the bridge is open,” shouted West Hill resident Paul Brandon as he prepared for his first walk across it in more than five years.

Brandon was on his way to check out an apartment at King Street and Stambaugh Avenue. He said he had to cross the street near the Honda shop three years ago when he would go to his Special Olympics team basketball practice.

“I used to walk like this all the time,” he said.

A few employees at Daffin’s Candies said they’d have to remember that they can get home again by crossing the viaduct. Some even said they’d be walking now that warm weather is here.

Shirley Gagliardi, who has worked for 15 years at the candy store on East State Street at North Oakland, helped organize a petition a few years ago that was taken to city and county officials to express unhappiness with the lack of progress.

“I’m elated,” Ms. Gagliardi said. “It’s been a long time, but it’s finally open.”

Ms. Gagliardi, who lives on Prindle Street, said it takes her only two minutes to get to work now that she can take the bridge.

“Now you have no excuse for being late to work,” another employee said.

Sharon police Capt. Michael Menster said the opening is a big plus for the residents from a safety standpoint, especially when it comes to the fire department.

“It’s going to be a lot quicker to get from one side of the town to the other,” he said. “And any firefighter will tell you that every second counts when it comes to a structure fire.”

He said the same holds true for the police department, which will also benefit from a quicker response time to the south end of the city.

Repair work to straighten the beam by repositioning several base plates on top of the bridge’s concrete pedestals began Oct. 18, 2005, and was completed in late February. Workers had been moving forward since on conventional construction.

An agreement with the surety company for contractor Carmen Paliotta Contracting Inc. set June 1 as the deadline for completion of the bridge. The overall cost of the project is about $4.4 million, with $3.6 million of that construction costs and the rest fees for services provided by project engineer Gannett Fleming. Although the viaduct is a county-owned bridge, state and federal dollars are paying for it.

After years of back and forth among the county, Paliotta and PennDOT over a safe way to repair the partly built bridge, commissioners in August called Paliotta’s performance bond. The bond required Paliotta’s surety company, Fidelity and Deposit Co., to assume responsibility for completing the bridge.

Fidelity hired Paliotta to finish the job for which it had already been paid $2.9 million before work stopped.

Paliotta sued the county in January 2004 and the county countersued a year later. Nearly 19 months of fact-finding came to an end last fall when Paliotta demanded that the county waive its right to seek liquidated damages for the project’s original delay if Paliotta resumed litigation. Both sides have reserved their rights to sue if a settlement can’t be reached.


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