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Community landmark "rehabbed" in 2010
Successful advocacy efforts by S.A.V.E. and the East Fallowfield Historic Commission led to a bittersweet result for this historic stone arch bridge
The Mortonville Bridge is a 230' four-span, closed spandrel stone arch bridge carrying Strasburg Road over the West Branch of the Brandywine Creek. It was built in 1826 by Wilson Buffington and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing element of the Strasburg Road Thematic Group. It retains high integrity of design, materials and workmanship as an early example of masonry arch bridge technology in Chester County and is one of the County's oldest stone arch bridges in continuous use.
Like many historic bridges throughout the Commonwealth, the Mortonville Bridge is a community landmark. It is well known to area residents and daily travelers of Strasburg Road, helping to establish the rural character of the existing historic roadway with its twists, turns and winding, hilly nature with essentially nonexistent shoulders. Average daily traffic counts in 2001 were approximately 4,350 vehicles.
Although the width of the historic bridge and its curved approaches may not conform to modern engineering standards, they serve as physical traffic calming features, encouraging drivers to slow down, drive courteously and obey the posted speed limits. Federal Highway Administration guidelines do allow flexibility in design when improvements to an historic bridge are being contemplated.
Off and on for two decades, PennDOT developed and proposed plans to bypass the existing bridge with a new, wider modern structure. Meanwhile, the Mortonville Bridge went largely neglected and, once the new bridge was built, its fate would be uncertain. PennDOT suggested the bridge could become a pedestrian bridge and offered it through its Adopt-A-Bridge Program, but had no takers. So, in all likelihood the historic bridge would have been "demolished by neglect."
S.A.V.E. Partnered with East Fallowfield Township & its Historic Commission to save the bridge
Following the nomination of the Mortonville bridge (as a case study highlighting the threat to many historic bridges throughout the Commonwealth) to the Preservation Pennsylvania's 2005 Endangered Historic Resources List as well as additional advocacy efforts on heblf of the bridge, PennDOT announced that the Mortonville Bridge would instead receive a "substantial rehabilitation" including a widening of up to 4 feet on a cantilevered deck. Nearby residents and East Fallowfield Township representatives were thrilled with this announcement, as to them the bridge is a historic part of their community, acts as a traffic calming feature along Strasburg Road, and the alternative of new bridge construction would have significant, undesirable environmental and community impacts. The new modern, wider bridge, which would have necessitated the demolition of other adjacent historic buildings, acted to increase vehicle speeds and lead to the slow demise of the historic bridge, was thankfully off the table.
In 2010, PennDOT completed the "rehabilitation" of the historic Mortonville Bridge. Perhaps the most glaring impact seen by motorists are the new interior walls of concrete Jersey barriers with no stone facing, greatly detracting from the bridge's historic appearance. From the creek or valley, the bridge retains its wonderful stone arches but the cantilevered deck is quite visible. Unfortunatley, due to lack of communication and a lacking Section 106 process, the bridge's rehabiliation was met with little enthusiasm from the community and the Pennsylavnia Historic and Museums Commissions successfully appealed to have the bridge removed from the National Register of Historic Places.
Meanwhile, just upstream on Strasburg Road
The 2010-2011 rehabiliation of Copes Bridge, another historic stone arch bridge just east on Strasburg Road, was completed with superior results and celebrated by the community in early 2011.
February 2006 Main Line Today
Save Our Bridge! How a small town went up against PennDot over an even smaller local monument—and won [NEED TO ADD PDF]
By Bill Kent, Photographs by John Wynn