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The Problems At Pruss Hill Lurk Beneath Its Bridge

The closed Pruss Hill Road bridge, seen Tuesday from its east side

One supporting wall on the northeast side shows a top-to-bottom crack

SANATOGA PA – Never judge a book by its cover, wise librarians say. For that matter, never judge the sturdiness of a highway bridge by what gets seen only from a window as a car whizzes across it at 30 miles an hour.

The concrete bridge that carries picturesque Pruss Hill Road over the Sanatoga Creek, just west of Schaeffer Road in Lower Pottsgrove (PA) Township, at first glance looks to be stout and compact, almost a Rock of Ages among its kind.

Its upper portion, seen most often by the public, shows a few nicks and scratches from a bumper scrape here and a collision there. A top-to-bottom crack in a buttressing wall on the bridge’s northeast side may be, to the untrained eye, its most easily visible flaw.

Otherwise, the roadbed is colored a richly dark, just-paved black. It’s separated from the cool gray of the concrete by a shoulder stripe painted bright white, and as the eye follows Pruss Hill Road west beyond the bridge and up an adjacent hill it curves pleasingly away to the right and out of sight.

Nothing in the scene seems to scream “close this bridge now!,” as engineers from Traffic Planning and Design Inc. urged the township almost three weeks ago.

Rusted and broken reinforcing steel is bent and juts like a spear from beneath the bridge

But the scene is deceptive.

Underneath the bridge, where there is barely enough room for wayward youths to stand erect on smooth creek rocks and spray-paint their initials on its supports, The Post found Tuesday (Oct. 4, 2011) what far-more-skilled TPD representatives surely also discovered: inches-deep gouges in the bridge bed in some places, rusted and broken reinforcing steel in others, and deterioration along most of its length at both sides.

TPD, headquartered in Sanatoga, was hired by the township during August to conduct a study about how the bridge and road, notorious for accidents caused by speeding and careless driving in bad weather, could be made safer. It strongly recommended the bridge’s closure after an inspection, which Lower Pottsgrove police and highway crews put into effect Sept. 16.

Disgruntled owners of nearby homes learned about the closure only when they faced barricades on either side of the bridge, blocking their passage.

Cracks, gouges and rusting steel can be seen along most of the length of the bridge edges

During the next three weeks, township Manager Rodney Hawthorne told the Board of Commissioners Monday (Oct. 3), he and TPD experts intend to decide whether the bridge can be re-opened to vehicles of limited weight, if at all. Over the longer term, though, to accommodate all traffic, everyone officially involved acknowledges the bridge must be either replaced or substantially repaired.

In the best of all scenarios, one commissioner has said, Lower Pottsgrove could hope for the new housing market to bounce back. Then it might convince developers who own land near the 85-year-old bridge, and who have already filed preliminary plans to build homes there, to help foot the bill to fix it. It may take years for that kind of economic rebound, though.

There’s also no guarantee such a strategy will work. Lower Pottsgrove is currently suing the developer of the housing community surrounding Raven’s Claw Golf Club, only a half-mile east of Pruss Hill Pond, for what it alleges is that company’s failure to pay for long-negotiated repairs to the Rupert Road bridge. That’s  in similar straits.

Related (to Pruss Hill Road and its bridge):

Related (to the Lower Pottsgrove Board of Commissioners’ meeting of Oct. 3):

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