Land trust hopes to save bridge

posted Wed, Feb 13, 2008

The Kennett Paper, By Prue Osborn

Only two single lane plate girder bridges remain in Chester County. They are reminiscent of old railway bridges with hand–laid stone wing walls. One of them, Kennett Township's 98–year–old Chandler Mill Bridge, is marked for replacement, and 123 neighbors have signed a petition to save it.A consortium made up of residents of Chandler Mill and Bucktoe roads, Bucktoe Creek Preserve, Red Clay Valley Association, Kennett Township Historic Commission, Delaware Nature Society, Kennett Township Land Trust and SAVE has formed to push for rehabilitating the bridge rather than removing it and replacing it with a two–lane concrete bridge.

Property owner Tom Brokaw said Chester County marked the Chandler Mill Bridge for replacement 30 years ago and stopped maintaining it. It has rusted and deteriorated. With funds from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation the county is gearing up to replace it with a two–lane concrete structure.

The stretch of road between the bridge at the south end and Hillendale Road at the north end is part of the Red Clay Creek Conservation Corridor. Most properties along the corridor are either under conservation easement, to protect them from future development, or are in the process of becoming eased. Gwen Lacy, executive director of the KTLT, said the bridge is a "key component."

The nearly 300–acre, privately owned Bucktoe Creek Preserve is used for Delaware Nature Society programs and camps. The University of Delaware and other schools also use the site. A walking trail has been developed and trees planted between the creek and the road along the 1840 Chandler Mill millrace. There are plans to open it the public in the near future. The KTLT hopes eventually to connect it to trail extensions leading to the Borough of Kennett Square.

William Ryan, director of BCP, said the area is being proposed as a historic district because remains still exist of the Chandler's Mill dam and millrace, as well as historic standing structures and a National Historic Register site. Also within the preserve are the ruins of an early African–American settlement, including the African Union Cemetery, a church and several ruins assumed to have been dwellings of freed slaves.

Although it is nearly 100 years old, the bridge did not make it on the 1980 historic bridge inventory. It is the small version of the two–lane bridge one–and–a–half miles upstream on Hillendale Road and an exact replica of the already–rehabilitated Runnymede Bridge.

Brokaw said when it was built it was thought of as high tech, modeled after the railroad bridges of the time. "If we an get past this challenge and it can survive, 50 years from now it will be revered like a covered bridge. It's quaint and picturesque and has historical significance."

Kennett Township supervisor Mike Elling said Penn DOT has offered two replacement alternatives: a two–lane standard design bridge or a one–way, one–lane bridge, which would cut down on traffic significantly.

"The township should see the bridge and this historical corridor as an asset versus a liability. As the bridge passes the 100–year mark it will stand out as an accomplishment for the township, a model for what can be done in other parts of the township in similar areas where there are historical features and natural areas combined. The collaboration between the township and the residents would set a precedent for future preservation projects," Ryan said.

"Saving the bridge," Lacy said,"takes guts and economic forethought — the ability to reconcile the past while embracing the future of the township."

Elling said while he and the other supervisors have sympathy for the consortium's cause, it would be cost prohibitive for the township to buy back the bridge.

Chester County estimates the cost of replacing the bridge will be approximately $1.5 million.

The consortium hired Lichtenstein Consulting Engineers to prepare a rehabilitation and maintenance report on the bridge that supports its proposal to Kennett Township, Chester County and Penn DOT that the bridge be rehabilitated rather than replaced. The Lichtenstein report estimates the cost of rehabilitating the current bridge would be $289, 260 with $4, 500 maintenance per year.

Members of the consortium have suggested an endowment fund, with monies raised by the community, to cover the costs of the bridge now and into the future.

Brokaw said if rehabilitation is not feasible, he is all in favor of Penn Dot replacing the bridge with a one–way, one–lane bridge, if it preserves the aesthetics of the original bridge.

Chester County director of facilities management Steve Fromnick explained in an e–mail that the decision on the bridge is expected this week. He said rehabilitation of the bridge,"is a short–term solution, inadequate and it will only delay the inevitable for this bridge."

Ryan said the township and its residents should go to bat for this bridge and its environs. "Ask the newer residents of this township,'Why did you move to this township? Was it because you liked the rural character or because you wanted a lot of traffic?' It is important for township residents to speak up in defense of something they care about."

To contact Prue Osborn, email prueosborn@aol.com.  

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