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Penn DOT choosing "profit" over public safety for Muddy Run Bridge

Susan Prasse

(10/25) The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (Penn DOT) is not budging on its plan to close Route 116 completely in Highland Township and Fairfield next summer. This will pose a significant change to the way residents, businesses, and tourists will navigates their way in and out of the area while the bridge over Muddy Run is replaced. Plans call for the bridge to be closed from early June to early September.

In a letter written to Supervisor Robert Gordon of Hamiltonban Township by Project Manager Gary Kleist of Penn DOT, leaving one lane open or installing a temporary bridge would "add considerable costs and cause a much longer inconvenience." For emergency vehicles, the letter says, Penn DOT "has identified a 3.3 mile detour" over Cold Springs and Carroll’s Tract roads. The emergency detour "is not being signed as the primary detour in an attempt to not put an undue burned on the maintenance of the local transportation network," Kleist wrote.

That route is "dangerous," Fairfield Fire and Emergency Medical Services Chief Bill Jacobs said citing two one-lane bridges, a roadway too narrow for two large vehicles going in opposite directions, many curves and hills, and dark conditions.

Route 116 is the main artery into Hamiltonban, Fairfield, Carroll Valley, and other surrounding communities. It is the main road for emergency responders transporting people to Gettysburg Hospital.

Both detours that have been proposed for the bridge closure are logistically a nightmare and will add 15-20 minutes conservatively to police, fire, and emergency responders – especially those who drive for Adams Regional Emergency Medical Services (AREMS); AREMS provides both basic life support (BLS) and advanced life support (ALS) services to over 15 municipalities in Adams County. Jacobs alleged that Penn DOT is choosing "profit" over public safety by choosing to close the highway instead of closing one lane at a time or installing a temporary bridge. "There are going to be accidents," Jacobs said, calling the route completely inadequate for tractor-trailers.

Though the emergency detour reaches into Hamiltonban Township, the bridge itself, approximately a mile east of Fairfield, is in Highland Township, where Craig Rockey chairs the Board of Supervisors. He said that he had a half-hour conversation with a Penn DOT official and they (Penn DOT) were "unmoved" by the concern of the local municipalities.

Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners (PWKP) will replace 16 aging bridges in Adams County in just over a year, completing construction by the end of 2016. The bridges are primarily crossings on smaller state highways, many in rural areas, rather than interstate bridges or large river crossings.

Plans call for eight bridges in Adams County to be completely closed for approximately 10 weeks each next year at various times between April and September as part of the state's Rapid Bridge Replacement Project. Additional bridge replacements are planned in the county in 2017.

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