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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Bridge Doctor Speaks

In June, I told you that Lehigh County Exec Don Cunningham plans to replace the aging Reading Road bridge, a beautiful, stone-arched and county-owned bridge located in Allentown. As darkness follows the light, Allentown curmudgeon Michael Molovinsky followed my post with one of his own, complaining that Cunningham's bridge replacement program is just more "political patter."

Thirteen people might disagree with Molovinsky, but we won't be hearing from them. They died when the Mississippi River Bridge collapsed in 2008.

I digress. Let's stick to this bridge.

Molovinsky tells us that the Reading Road bridge is in "excellent condition" and he even confirmed that with someone who used to work in Allentown's engineering department. Because it's a stone arch bridge, he also claims it's historically significant. "When you replace a historic bridge which doesn't need replacing, you're stealing our culture," he says.

Michael talks like that.

I figured I should warn someone that Cunningham is stealing our culture, and was eventually put in touch with the "bridge doctor," Glenn Solt. His official title is Capital Projects Manager.

Solt was surprised to learn the bridge is in "excellent condition." "It was built for horses and wagons, not automobiles," he told me. The bridge only has a three-ton carrying capacity, far from today's standards. Twenty-six hundred cars and trucks ride over it every day. No buggies, except when those damn Mennonites are cruisin'.

But it's a stone arch bridge. Doesn't that mean something, Glenn? Solt told me that the County does try to preserve small stone arch bridges with minimal traffic. "They are nice-looking bridges," he admitted. But like a pretty woman, they are also high maintenance. "It becomes impractical to spend the kind of money you need to spend to take care of these bridges." It is also a false beauty. "The stone you see is 1 foot thick. Then they fill it in with crap."

An exterior of stone, filled in with crap? I dated her.

But what about the Allentown engineering department? Molovinsky relies on some mysterious soul who used to work there. Well, Allentown does not own the Reading Road bridge. But they do own a downstream bridge on nearby Union Street, and Solt tells me they intend to replace it soon.

What about that pedestrian walkway? Molovinsky claims it needs a coat of paint. Solt tells me the new bridge will accommodate pedestrians. The pedestrian walkway will be torn down.

Solt is backed up by National Bridges, which rates the bridge as "functionally obsolete." Its sufficiency rating is just 20.6%.

Instead of "political patter," Solt is actually doing his job. "It's what we're supposed to do with the public's money - take care of their roads. You can't get from place to place without that kind of infrastructure."


Anonymous said...

Fix a bridge and can people. whats up.

michael molovinsky said...

bernie, your capacity to carry water for cunningham approaches that of a camel. here is the description of functionally obsolete from the guide to which you refer;

Functionally Obsolete
Functionally Obsolete is a status used to describe a bridge that is no longer by design functionally adequate for its task. Reasons for this status include that the bridge doesn't have enough lanes to accomodate the traffic flow, it may be a drawbridge on a congested highway, or it may not have space for emergency shoulders. Functionally Obsolete does not communicate anything of a structural nature. A Functionally Obsolete bridge may be perfectly safe and structurally sound, but may be the source of traffic jams or may not have a high enough clearance to allow an oversized vehicle.

the guide also has a structurally obsolete rating which wasn't assigned to this bridge. the bridge was built in 1824 and then totally rehabilitated 156 years later in 1980. tell glenn solt it's good to go for another 126 years. can he say that about the bridge he intends to build? in the meanwhile, as a taxpayer, i would appreciate them keeping their hands off the bridge, but please paint the walking bridge beams as documented on my blog.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Michael, I admit I like Cunningham. It's just as obvious you detest him, so let's get that out of the way. Last week, you used this bridge project as a poor excuse to dump all over him. I decided to get LC's perspective. They can read your story, my story and decide for themselves.

michael molovinsky said...

bernie, i wrote my post to hopefully save the bridge, not as a vehicle to dump on cunningham. although i do find him quite phony, i use my blog for issues, not political promotion or attack. your prose about light and dark, Mennonite carriages and women you date is a distraction from a proposed mindless destruction of an irreplaceable icon

what solt fails to reveal is that reading road is one half block from hamilton blvd, and is not a heavily used road. they could simply prohibit trucks(there's nothing on reading road that doesn't front on hamilton) and save a historically significant, structurally sound bridge. furthermore it frames union terrace park. tearing it down is, as i said, political patter. it shows an ignorance of our history and a bureaucratic mediocrity.

Anonymous said...

fixing infrastructure-a basic duty of government.

Anonymous said...

MM is smarter than an organization that ranks the bridge as obsolete. How arrogant are you?

Bernie O'Hare said...

People can read your post and decide for themselves whether you are motivated by some altruistic desire to "save the bridge" or whether it was just another way for you to dump all over Cunningham. I think it's a little of both.

That bridge, incidentally, has no historical signifigance, no designation by anyone but you. While you clamor about history, the weight limitations on that bridge are being exceeded nearly every time a truck or more than one car go over it. It is no longer adequate to the task, unless you want Allentown to revert to a horse and carriage town. That's what "functionally obsolete" means.

The purpose of my post is to provide LC's perspective.

Anonymous said...

Are you correctly quoting Solt? He used the word "crap" in his statement to you. How much does Solt earn working at the county?
Do you know, Bernie. Also, how did he get this "cushy" job. Wasn't he a
former Whitehall Township official?

michael molovinsky said...

bernie, my i respectfully suggest you take a small field trip to the bridge there's parking on the west side, to your left in the park. walk with dat over the pedestrain bridge. see how few cars use the bridge, and no trucks. bring your camera, you'll have a memory, which you will not have with a modern slab with a sidewalk.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 7:51,

Glenn Solt is Whiteall Tp's former executive. He is a cabinet level official, brought in by Cunningham. I was unaware that any capital projects manager in county government has a "cushy" job. Given the dizzying array of never-ending projects, my guess is he's quite busy. I do not know his salary. It is a matter of public information and you could easily learn that via a phone call.

Yes, he did use the word "crap," and I find nothing offensive about his use of that rather common word.

Yes, he is part of a political patronage system employed by both major parties since the days of the American Lion, Andrew Jackson, who actually viewed it as a reform.

These days the only person I know who does not follow that patronage system is John Stoffa. He even hires Republicans, trying to find the best person for each job. If truth be told, Cunningham has made republican hires, too. Cunningham's Director of Administration, Tom Muller, is an R.

Political patronage is an interesting topic for a future post. But what you're doing is personally attacking Solt (cushy job, he said crap, salary), while failing to address the merits of what he actually says.

Bernie O'Hare said...


I've been there several times and have even walked over the pedestrian bridge. I used to do some running there, too.

You are telling me to sit there and see how little traffic goes by. What you are basically doing is suggesting I conduct a traffic study. That's been done. It's 2600. That's too much weight for that bridge, making it unsafe.

I agree it is pretty. But Solt has stated that pretty things are high maintenance. In some cases, it is worth it. If you think it is worth preserving despite the added cost, you're going to have to make your case in the face of a recession and a county battling to avoid a tax hike, with a bridge that really has no historical designation. It's an uphill battle.

Anonymous said...

I would agree with MM but the beauty of the bride has been hidden by the pedestrian bridge anyway.

Tear it down. Hopefully the county will consider a finish similar to the new bridge on Ott Street. It is beautiful.

Anonymous said...

3 tons capacity? That's one SUV and a Mini Cooper. Get rid of it. Move it to Molovinsky's back yard where he can stand on it and ponder our lost culture.

michael molovinsky said...

anon 8:49, i suspect the bridge can hold much more than three tons, and i also doubt that 2,600 cars and trucks cross it every day. all the recent bridge failures have been with modern bridges, which are engineered to only meet requirements, while historical construction was always overbuilt. how ironic you cite the new ott street bridge which has patterned concrete to resemble stone, while advocating the destruction of a genuine historic stone bridge.

Anonymous said...

If this bridge has a sufficiency rating of 20.6, it should be replaced.

From PennDOT:
Sufficiency rating is a calculated rating indicating the bridge’s sufficiency (or capability).

Factors included in the calculation are:
• the structure’s adequacy and safety (accounting for 55% and based on inspection data),
• the structure’s serviceability and functional obsolescence (accounting for 30% and based on ability of bridge to meet current traffic conditions), and
• how essential the bridge is for public use (accounting for 15%)
Ratings range from 100 (entirely sufficient) to 0 (entirely insufficient or deficient).

Anonymous said...

Permission to Change Topic. Perhaps you may wish to do separate piece on :
Pennsylvania will borrow up to $600 million to pay for pet building projects, including
X Millions for a Specter library.
Courtesy: PennLive.com

Bernie O'Hare said...

"anon 8:49, i suspect the bridge can hold much more than three tons, and i also doubt that 2,600 cars and trucks cross it every day."

Your suspicion and doubt are one thing, while hard facts are hard facts.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Pennsylvania will borrow up to $600 million to pay for pet building projects, including
X Millions for a Specter library."

Totlally disgraceful. Both Casey and Micek have hit this, but I'll look at it.

michael molovinsky said...

bernie, as you may know, the bridge web site is privately owned and has disclaimers as such, hardly "hard information". is this glenn solt's basis for replacing bridges in lehigh county?

Bernie O'Hare said...

No, Michael. Solt has better information provided by engineers who study all county bridges periodically. If it is like NC, I believe there is an annual inspection. In addition to that, there was a separate traffic study mentioned by Solt.

The information at National Bridge's database is compiled by the Federal Highway Admin on the basis of information supplied annually by state DOTs. I consider it reliable, but in some cases, it may be dated.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Glad to see the Lehigh Street Bridge is on the radar. Hopefully sooner rather than later. There was Crap falling from the bridge onto the rail trail below ...... and yes I said crap. The bridge was struck twice in the last year. When we fix these bridges, we must do it right including pedestrian access.

The Cementon Bridge was also weight restricted. When they removed the concrete for emergency repairs, the metal was found to be deteriorated between the sides of the support beams. That is why there are metal plates on every beam. Also, the sidewalk was closed when a section fell into the river. The hidden dangers on the Cementon Bridge could have been catastrophic especially with all the heavy trucks that use it. I applaud the County for having their pulse on the bridge issue.

Anonymous said...

"i suspect the bridge can hold much more than three"

oh, that's f***ing brilliant. everyday when i drive over a bridge, i take comfort in the fact that a real engineer doesn't rely on what he or she "suspects"

michael molovinsky said...

anon 6:33, although glenn solt may not be an engineer, the people who rebuilt the bridge in 1980 were, and the bridge was already in use for 156 years then. for many of those years reading road was a main route and received much, much heavier use than it does now. before being an anonymous apologist, perhaps you should visit the historic bridge and consider alternatives to destruction. (maybe a weight limit sign) reading road is now the road to nowhere and receives very light use. the intersection at 24th street is very dangerous and mostly avoided. the road now deadends where it meets hamilton blvd,, but i doubt if you even know where the bridge is

Anonymous said...

Bernie -

I live in the neighborhood around the bridge and travel it daily.

I question the high maintenance costs that Solt alludes to. I cannot remember seeing any vehicles near the bridge that would lead me to believe that anything extraordinary has been done to the bridge in the recent past.

We really don't need another cookie-cutter bridge that will encourage heavy-vehicle traffic along Reading Road/Walnut Street.

If the county really wants to build a bridge that matters, how about putting a real bridge in the Lehigh Parkway where the County replaced a vehicle bridge with a pedestrian bridge (near the Police Academy).

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with MM's assessment of Cunningham and the total lack of appreciation he has for anything older than two generations of memory. I guess asking such a habitual 'pol' to have some respect and appreciation for architectural heritage may be a bit much, as the English say. After all (journalism major in college + poly sci), what does he care about Allentown or Lehigh County, he's not one of us, but was born and raised in Bethlehem.

If Jane Ervin had not been so totally obtuse and incompetent, and out of touch with Lehigh County people, Cunningham would NEVER EVER have fallen into his present job. He's Lehigh County's version of Obama: our worst nightmare.