And To Think That They Saw It On James Street
By Rick Hiduk
Motorists crossing the James Street Bridge over the Susquehanna River between North Towanda and Sheshequin Townships on July 14 were likely distracted by the variety of activities that coincided on the span at midday. PennDOT personnel were conducting routine inspections of the piers and underside of the bridge, a crew of flaggers was controlling traffic at the Sheshequin Township side of the span in conjunction with the rebuilding of SR1041, and a representative from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) was collecting water samples from the middle of the bridge.
PennDOT had scheduled inspections of both the James Street Bridge and the Route 187 bridge between Wysox and Asylum Townships for the same day. Safe-T-Zone flagging company was working with Dalrymple Contracting company subcontracted by Chesapeake Energy, which was paving Ghent Road. According to the men on the bridge, neither crew was expecting to share space with the other, nor did Aaron Henning of Harrisburg-based SRBC know that he’d be doing his job in the midst of the other two companies. Not that anybody was complaining. The low humidity and light breeze made for perfect weather to work outdoors, and the vistas offered by the James Street Bridge, which was constructed in 1972 to replace the iron structure lost to the Agnes flood, are remarkable.
“I enjoy being able to work outside year round. I get to travel throughout the basin and see some amazing things and places,” stated SRBC fisheries biologist Aaron Henning of Lititz. As a water data collector primarily in the northern reaches of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, a typical workday may take Henning from Harrisburg to Campbell, NY, to Towanda, to Rockdale and Conklin, NY, and back through Wilkes-Barre on his return trip to Harrisburg. Henning noted that he never grows tired of panoramas he takes in from the various testing sites, which are commonly selected for their relative lack of traffic. “It’s typically a rather solitary job,” noted Henning, who is originally from Montrose and a graduate student of Penn State University. “I usually see more bald eagles and osprey than people.”
PennDOT was actually working at both ends of the bridge. One group of personnel was operating a boom with a cage in which an inspection engineer could be lowered over the side of the bridge to look for structural abnormalities on the structure’s underside. Meanwhile, underwater bridge inspector Scott Doty, PennDOT’s Bradford County assistant maintenance manager Warren Knapp, and bridge inspection team leader Shawn Krehel puttered from pier to pier under the bridge in a small motor boat, working with PennDOT maintenance staff member Dave Strohl of Towanda, who was stationed on the bridge deck. Although their working conditions were pleasant, their task was serious.
“The need for underwater inspections became apparent after the New York State Thruway bridge over Schoharie Creek collapsed in 1987,” related PennDOT bridge safety engineer Jeffrey Levan. Following that disaster, he noted, national bridge inspection standards were “modified to include more complete underwater inspection as an integral part of the overall bridge inspection process.” More recently, he added, a portion of the Route 6 bridge over Sugar Creek collapsed during the 1996 ice flood, which comprised another substructure abutment that resulted in an emergency contract to replace the bridge.
Elements that determine the frequency of inspections for each crossing include foundation type, potential for debris buildup, stream velocity and slope, channel flow/efficiency, flood history, composition of streambed material, overall scour potential, and changes since the last assessment.
Inspections at major crossings, Levan continued, “often include measurement of water depth, monitoring streambed elevations surrounding a pier or abutment, and whether or not a foundation footer is exposed due to the effects of water flow through the site.” Levan did not report any immediate problem with the James Street or Route 187 bridges or the Veterans’ Memorial Bridge, which was inspected on July 16. An official report on the assessments is due between now and the end of July.
Since 1989, the James Street Bridge has been part of a 23-station SRBC network since 1989 that works with similar agencies in the six states that contribute to the Chesapeake Bay watershed, as well as several federal agencies. Henning drives from one testing site to another, parking on the bridge deck over what he knows is one of the deeper parts of the river, and repeatedly dropping a depth integrated sampler until he has retrieved enough river water to complete his tests, which indicate nutrient and sediment levels along the waterway. The information has become even more valuable, he noted, due to the development and expansion of natural gas drilling in northern Pennsylvania.
Under the direction of E.J. Breneman, Dalrymple was performing a full-depth reclamation of Ghent Road, recycling more than 90 percent of the existing pavement and underlying rock into a new road base that was then covered with a new layer of pavement. Joe Linko of Safe-T-Zone Flag Company found the convergence of activity on the James Street Bridge that day to be an interesting mix that he otherwise took in stride, as he and his fellow flaggers are just as likely to be managing traffic on a country road as in a downtown setting. “There’s a lot happening in Bradford County,” the Pittston resident remarked.