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Group Sues to Block Historic PA Bridge Replacement

Thursday, November 15, 2018

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An environmental protection group recently sued to stop the replacement of a historic bridge in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, citing the belief that the span can be reopened for traffic, its original character preserved.

The Headquarters Road Bridge, also known as the Burnt Mill Bridge or Sheephole Brigee, is the oldest “pier-to-pier” constructed bridge remaining in Pennsylvania. According to The Inquirer, there is only one other left in the country. At the end of October, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network filed the court complaint in the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia against the state and the Federal Highway Administration, saying that the  Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's plan is in violation of environmental regulations, furthering the replacement of the bridge as a "predetermined outcome.”

Bridge History

Headquarters Road Bridge, now 206 years old, began its life as infrastructure for pedestrians and horses, but was later opened to car traffic in 1919. PennDOT began looking at replacing the bridge in 2002, with its first public meeting held in 2005. The bridge was closed to traffic in 2011 due to its poor condition, and an inspection in 2012 also revealed that the bridge is structurally deficient. Roughly 900 vehicles crossed the bridge daily at one point, but by the time the span was closed, that number dropped to 631 a day. Only one lane of traffic could cross the bridge at a time, as the lane is only 16 feet wide.


The Headquarters Road Bridge, also known as the Burnt Mill Bridge or Sheephole Brigee, is the oldest “pier-to-pier” constructed bridge remaining in Pennsylvania.

At the end of September, FHWA granted PennDOT an environmental impact “categorical exclusion.” The transportation agency requested the exclusion under a section of the National Environmental Policy Act; this kind of exclusion is normally granted to projects that are not anticipated to significantly impact the environment.

Lawsuit Filed

In its lawsuit, the network proposed rehabilitating the current span and constructing a 100-foot temporary span for immediate use; PennDOT previously dismissed both ideas. The network also claims that the replacement project would move the existing bridge abutments 15 feet to the west. That shift, the network claims, will cause a shift in the flow of the creek and subsequent erosion of banks downstream, likely resulting in property loss and in-stream pollution.

PennDOT considered 10 other alternatives before settling on the current plan, which includes demolishing and replacing the old bridge while retaining some of the original character in accordance with a FHWA agreement with the national Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Among these plans is using existing stones in the new bridge’s facade.

“Due to the existing structure’s poor overall condition and the need for a new concrete span that meets current design criteria, PennDOT does not agree that a rehabilitated structure meets the needs of the community ... nor would a rehabilitation be a wise investment of taxpayer dollars,” said state transportation agency spokesperson Brad Rudolph.

PennDOT officials have also noted that they will only rehabilitate the bridge if the township assumes ownership after the work is completed. The agency also no longer builds single-lane bridges.

The Riverkeeper Network also offered its own plan by McMullan & Associates: Replace the top deck and guardrails while also preserving the original masonry piers and abutments.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Government; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Infrastructure; Lawsuits; NA; North America; Program/Project Management

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