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Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Bethlehem Tp Wants PennDOT to Repair Easton Avenue Culvert

Collapsed culvert on Easton Avenue 
Bethlehem Township Commissioners unanimously authorized Marty Zawarski, ath their June 1 meeting, to demand that PennDOT undertake repairs on a collapsed culvert along Easton Avenue, directly across the street from The Keystone Pub.

In March, Bethlehem Township's Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to fix the culvert, with Commissioner Michael Hudak providing the sole No vote. Although he agreed the matter needed to be addressed for public safety reasons, he argued that more pressure should be placed on PennDOT, which owns Easton Avenue. PennDOT has insisted it had nothing to do with the problem, although it was willing to supply materials and labor for the repair.

Research and a City resident make clear that PennDOT had more to do in that area than it remembers now.

A title search reveals that the culvert in question is actually owned by the homeowners along that portion of Easton Avenue. But it also revealed that PennDot installed the culvert.

In 1977, Debra LaForm stepped out of her stalled car during a rainstorm to make a call for help from the nearby hotel now known as The Keystone Pub. Returning to her car, she suddenly vanished. She had stepped into an open drainage ditch, which sucked her body through an 18" drainage pipe and ultimately, into the Nancy Run Creek.

Her body was found eight hours later.

This has been a problem area in Bethlehem Township for many years because it is a low point in the Nancy Run watershed. Township engineer Leonard Fraivillig refused to approve PennDOT plans for stormwater along that roadway because he believed a straight 96-inch pipe would be necessary to drain the ditch on the west side of Santee Road. PennDOT nevertheless went ahead anyway. Fraivillig's plan was never acted on because it was too costly.

This, along with an absence of fences or guardrails around that ditch, cost Debra LaForma her life.

The collapsed culvert being studied by the Township now is on the other side of the street, and PennDOT has insisted it has no responsibility in that area. But Bethlehem resident Scott Culpepper remembers that, in the early '70s, when he was fresh out of college, he was working for PennDOT as a laborer and was involved in the installation of the grates over the collapsed culvert to which PennDOT disavows any knowledge.

"If in fact PennDot did install the grates then it is clearly their responsibility not ours," noted Commissioner Michael Hudak.

Testimony in the LaFrom case includes a PennDOT engineer who acknowledged installing the grates.
Q. Now, after the 1959 and 1960 construction, were there any grates at the intersection, either intersection? I say one, but it is really two, Willow park and Santee.

A. I do recall that our maintenance, our county maintenance from Northampton county, rebuilt –

Q. That is, again, PennDOT?

A. PennDOT, yes. – we rebuilt a portion of the sidewalk around this radius. There was a collapse of the top of the box culvert, a two-foot by three-foot concrete box. Instead of putting a concrete sidewalk on top of it, they put a steel grate bridge flooring on top of it; primarily, to take care of the impact loads from trucks that were going around this corner. It happens to be a fairly sharp radius, and, especially, rear wheels of tractor trailers would go over the curb and on the sidewalk. So in order to reinforce that, we put in bridge flooring, instead of concrete sidewalks.

Q. How large was that bridge flooring, which is – it is like a metal grate, is it not?

A. That’s right. Approximately, five, six inches thick.

Q. How large is that?

A. I don’t know what the exact length of it is.
Bethlehem Township Solicitor Jim Broughal met with PennDOT officials and presented his findings, and the state agency still refuses to repair the culvert. Broughal suggested a formal demand was a necessary step to anything that follows. Copies of this demand will also be sent to State Senator Lisa Boscola, State Rep. Marcia Hahn and the Secretary of Transportation.


Anonymous said...

And how much money is the Township spending on chasing this issue when it was dealt with in the past? Should there not be records of this? Good luck to his eminence in directing the State to fix a problem.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that these state government agencies fight with the very citizens that pay their wage?

Anonymous said...

Walk west of the intersection on the Keystone Pub side and you will find that the sidewalk is falling through there as well. Can we get some answers?

Bernie O'Hare said...

It extends between Willow Park and Santee Road. That isd where PennDOT installed the grate.

Anonymous said...

They are refusing because the commissioners voted first to fix it themselves. Hudak was the only one who knew they were walking into admission and liability. They were pleaded with that night not to take that vote. Good thing Marty got us into this and now needed another vote to back peddle out.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Hudak deserves credit for being right on that issue.

Lighthouse said...

I waited a few days to comment, but here is my take and prediction:

The box culvert problem is actually from one house east of Butztown Rd to Keystone Pub on that side of Easton Ave, and on the other side of Easton Ave in the area of question from Willow Park and along several houses. How far, I am not certain, but I would think it safe to say where there is sidewalk on either side that really does not lead anywhere, is likely covering the culvert(s).

If you look on both sides there are other areas along this stretch that will likely need repairs in the not to distant future. What SHOULD be done is a comprehensive fix along both sides, but $$ becomes the factor.

You mention that the homeowners technically own these areas per your title search. When there was a similar, but smaller problem in the early 2000s on the stretch between the Pub and Butztown that conclusion was put out there as the likely, but not conclusive, probability (I say not conclusive because there some uncertainty resulting from some Trolley Co ROW scores ago). BUT, with such uncertainty of ownership between Trolley Co., Twp, and PennDOT, rather than trying to go after the homeowner to make the repair the then solicitor, on behalf of the then BOC, was able to negotiate that PennDOT made that small fix while simultaneously saying they were not technically responsible (decade old memory is a little fuzzy, so not 100% certain, but that is how I remember it).

Fast FW to your post. The grate you refer to is only at the corner. From your post I can't tell: Is that all PennDOT put in?? or did the build the whole culvert? If they only put in the corner grates, then I predict they will say this issue is not resolved, and that they are not responsible. In fact, I believe at one point, the Twp told the property owner at the corner house that they were responsible for the grate between the street and their driveway, not the Twp.

So, what is going to happen? My guess is that PennDOT will refuse responsibility. And then the Twp will either try to push it on the homeowner(s) which won't go over well, or do it them selves, but now perhaps losing the labor and supply PennDOT was willing to help with. Throw in lawyer fees for Twp and PennDOT, and who loses?

There once was a traffic plan to address the traffic at that intersection. If that ever happened, the few feet on either side of the road would end up being assumed anyway by someone (PennDOT or Twp) through eminent domain. But that would cost a LOT of money, so I don't know if it would ever happen. However, PennDOT and the TWP, should fix that whole stretch now. Besides an eyesore, it is a current and future safety issue. Pedestrians do sometimes walk along there. An out of control vehicle could drive over any part of this stretch perhaps going through the sidewalk. And, during heavy rains the area in current question is underwater, and then you have a LaForm potential all over again with a hidden hole sucking in water and anything in the water. Would the legal bills for PennDOT and BT be more or less with any of these potential lawsuits, rather than working together for taxpayers they have in common and fix it rather than pointing fingers at each other. Why does this have to be a turf war between two government units serving the same folks?

Lighthouse said...

Unfortunately, this too would cost money, but has either the Twp or a PennDOT engineer looked at the whole stretch of culverts between Butztown and Santee? That would either dispel that this really is a bigger issue (I thought I saw some sidewalk chipping on Pub side when driving by), or give justification for developing a plan of action so Twp, and/or PennDOT, and/or homeowners can figure out their role(s). Or is everyone afraid of that too, for fear of "taking ownership", and will just wait until the next piece falls through? The fact that there is this current problem on a different section would indicate that the fix a decade or more ago was not the end of a one spot problem, but maybe was really an early warning that the sidewalks over these culverts on both sides are aging. Even if they claim they are not the "responsible owners", does the gov't (whichever one) not have a legal responsibility now to at least investigate a known issue that transcends property lines but is a potential safety issue on a heavily traveled road? For part of it, the sidewalk is almost flush with the street (Pub side). If an impatient vehicle, thinking it is a sidewalk on solid ground, tries to (illegally) pull around a car (say waiting to make a left into the P.O., or stained glass place, could the weight of it go through or cause further structural weakness? I don't know, I am not an engineer. Further down, cars daily go around cars making a left onto Willow Park even though there is no designated separate thru and turn lanes. At some point (where??) I assume (dangerous word) these culverts must go under PennDOT's Easton Ave and Willow Park Rd. to dump into the Nancy Run and have been accounted for by PennDOT whenever work has been done on their roadways.

My concern is a.) safety, and b.) in the law of torts if a potential problem is "foreseeable" does it not increase liabilities... somebody's liability?