|Collapsed culvert on Easton Avenue|
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.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.
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.